World

No survivors found after Boeing 737 carrying 132 people crashes in southern China

A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people aboard crashed in a remote mountainous area of southern China on Monday, setting off a forest fire visible from space, in the country's worst air disaster in nearly a decade.

The plane went down Monday in a forested area in Guangxi region

No word on survivors after plane carrying 132 crashes in China

6 months ago
Duration 1:58
Investigators are trying to determine what caused a Boeing 737-800 passenger jet carrying 132 people to plunge from the sky and crash in southern China on Monday. It remains unclear if there were any survivors from the crash.

No survivors have been found more than 18 hours after a China Eastern plane carrying 132 people crashed Monday in a forested mountainous area in China's worst air disaster in a decade.

"Wreckage of the plane was found at the scene, but up until now, none of those aboard the plane with whom contact was lost have been found," state broadcaster CCTV said Tuesday morning. 

The Boeing 737-800 crashed near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region while flying from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan to the industrial centre of Guangzhou along the east coast. It ignited a fire big enough to be seen on NASA satellite images.

The crash created a deep pit in the mountainside, Xinhua news agency reported, citing rescuers. The report said drones and a manual search would be used to try to find the black boxes, which hold the flight data and cockpit voice recorders essential to crash investigations.

A base of operations was set up near the crash site with rescue vehicles, ambulances and an emergency power supply truck parked in the narrow space. Soldiers in camouflage joined helmeted rescue workers in orange jump suits in combing the charred crash site and surrounding heavily dense vegetation.

The steepness of the slope made positioning of heavy equipment difficult, although with few large pieces of the aircraft remaining, there appeared little need for their use.

China Eastern flight 5735 had been travelling 842 km/h at around 9,144 metres when it entered a steep and fast dive around 2:20 p.m. local time, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com. The plane plunged to 2,255 metres before briefly regaining about 366 metres in altitude, then dove again. The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds later when it was just southwest of Wuzhou, a city of three million people.

It was about an hour into the flight, and nearing the point at which it would begin descending into Guangzhou, when it pitched downward.

Local villagers were first to arrive at the forested area where the plane went down. Hundreds of rescue workers were swiftly dispatched from Guangxi and neighbouring Guangdong province.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an "all-out effort" in the rescue operation, as well as for an investigation into the crash and to ensure complete civil aviation safety.

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, debris is seen at the site of a plane crash in Tengxian County in southern China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, Tuesday. The state broadcaster says no survivors have been found. (Zhou Hua/Xinhua/The Associated Press)

Boeing 737-800 has 'excellent safety record'

Relatives of crew members arrived at a China Eastern office near the Kunming airport where the plane took off, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

In an emailed statement, Global Affairs Canada said it is "currently liaising with local authorities to determine if Canadian citizens have been affected."

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with those affected by the China Eastern Airlines plane crash that occurred in China," the statement said.

At a hotel near the airport, about a dozen people, some in jackets identifying them as members of China's aviation agency, huddled around tables and read documents.

A piece of wreckage of China Eastern's flight MU5735 is seen after it crashed Monday. (Xinhua/The Associated Press)

All of the more than 100 737-800s in China Eastern's fleet are being grounded, China's Transport Ministry said. With no word on when they could fly again, the grounding could potentially further disrupt domestic air travel already being curtailed as China deals with its largest coronavirus outbreak since the initial peak in early 2020.

Aviation experts said it is unusual to ground an entire fleet of planes unless there is evidence of a problem with the model. China has more 737-800s than any other country — nearly 1,200 — and if identical planes at other Chinese airlines are grounded, it "could have a significant impact on domestic travel," said aviation consultant IBA.

Boeing 737-800s have been flying since 1998, and Boeing has sold more than 5,100 of them. They have been involved in 22 accidents that totalled the planes and killed 612 people, according to data compiled by the Aviation Safety Network, an arm of the Flight Safety Foundation.

In this image taken from video footage run by China's CCTV, emergency personnel prepare to travel to the site of the plane crash near Wuzhou. (CCTV/The Associated Press)

"There are thousands of them around the world. It's certainly had an excellent safety record," the foundation's president, Hassan Shahidi, said of the 737-800.

The plane was not a Boeing 737 Max, the planes that were grounded worldwide for nearly two years after deadly crashes in 2018 and 2019.

China's air-safety record has improved since the 1990s as air travel has grown dramatically with the rise of a burgeoning middle class. Before Monday, the last fatal crash of a Chinese airliner occurred in August 2010, when an Embraer ERJ 190-100 operated by Henan Airlines hit the ground short of the runway in the northeastern city of Yichun and caught fire. Forty-four of the 96 people on board were killed. Investigators blamed pilot error.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board tweeted Monday that it had picked a senior investigator to help with the crash investigation. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the 737-800 in the 1990s, said it was ready to help in the investigation if asked.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. said it was in contact with U.S. investigators "and our technical experts are prepared to assist with the investigation led by the Civil Aviation Administration of China." Boeing shares fell 3.6 per cent during trading in New York. The safety board said engine maker CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and France's Safran, would provide technical help on engine issues.

Crash investigations are usually led by officials in the country where the crash occurred, but they typically include the airplane's manufacturer and the investigator or regulator in the manufacturer's home country.

Shahidi said he expects investigators to comb through the maintenance history of the plane and its engines, the training and records of the pilots, air traffic control discussions and other topics.

One of the world's most popular planes

Headquartered in Shanghai, China Eastern is one of the country's top three airlines, operating scores of domestic and international routes serving 248 destinations.

The aircraft was delivered to China Eastern from Boeing in June 2015 and had been flying for over six years. China Eastern Airlines uses the Boeing 737-800 as one of the main workhorses of its fleet — of its over 600 planes, 109 are Boeing 737-800s.

The CAAC and China Eastern both said they sent officials to the crash site in accordance with emergency measures.

A worker from China Eastern holds a sign waiting to lead relatives of people aboard flight MU5735 to a cordoned-off area in Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in Guangdong province on Monday. (Chinatopix/The Associated Press)

China Eastern gave its website a black-and-white homepage after the crash.

The crash quickly became a leading topic on China's Weibo social media platform, with 1.34 billion views and 690,000 discussions. Many posts expressed condolences to the families of victims.

The twin-engine, single-aisle Boeing 737 is one of the world's most popular planes for short- and medium-haul flights. 

The 737 Max, a later version, was grounded worldwide for nearly two years after crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people. In December, China's aviation regulator cleared the Max to return to service, making the country the last major market to do so, although Chinese airlines have not yet resumed flying the Max.

The deadliest crash involving a Boeing 737-800 came in January 2020, when Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing all 176 people on board.

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that China's last fatal plane crash in 2010 killed all 44 people on board. The crash killed 44 of 96 people on board.
    Mar 22, 2022 6:26 PM ET

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