A China Eastern Boeing 737 with 132 onboard crashes, casualties unknown
Published: Mar 21, 2022 04:10 PM Updated: Mar 21, 2022 04:46 PM

File Photo:IC

A China Eastern Boeing 737 with 132 people onboard crashed earlier Monday afternoon in South China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, causing a mountain fire. The number of casualties is not clear yet, the official website of Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said on Monday afternoon. 

Shortly after the accident, Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered all-out search and rescue efforts. Xi ordered the immediate launch of an emergency response, all-out search and rescue efforts and the proper settlement of the aftermath, according to Xinhua New Agency. 

Xi ordered swift action to be taken to identify the cause of the crash and to strengthen the safety overhaul of the civil aviation sector to ensure the absolute safety of the sector and people's lives.  

The State Council - China's cabinet - will assign officials to deal with the accident as a priority, identify the cause as soon as possible, and strengthen the investigation of safety hazards in civil aviation sector to ensure the absolute safety of aviation operations and people's lives in the future, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Monday afternoon. 

Premier Li Keqiang urged efforts to console the families of the victims and provide them with assistance, release accurate information in a timely manner, conduct a serious probe into the incident, and take strong measures to strengthen the safety of civil aviation.

According to the instruction, the CAAC, the Ministry of Emergency Management and other relevant departments have sent working groups to the scene to guide the on-the-scene handling of the accident, and dispatched rescue forces on the provincial level and from the neighboring province of Guangdong. The handling of the aftermath and the investigation of the cause of the accident are under way.

This is the first air crash in China since a fatal incident took place in Yichun, Northeast China's Heilongjiang Province back in 2010. The Yichun crash killed 44 people.

The plane, MU 5735, took off from Kunming Changshui airport in Southwest China's Yunnan Province at 13:15, and was scheduled to arrive at Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province at 15:07. 

The crashed plane has 132 onboard, including 123 passengers, and nine crew members. 

Sources told the Global Times that China Eastern Airlines has decided to ground all of the company's Boeing 737-800 planes.

China Eastern Airlines has also activated its emergency response mechanism, dispatched a working group to the site of the accident and set up a special emergency assistance hotline for victim families.

China Eastern Airlines expressed its deep condolences to the passengers and crew members killed in the plane crash, and promised to actively cooperate with the investigation.

At around 3 pm Monday, the Wuzhou Fire Brigade deployed a rescue team of 25 fire engines and 117 firefighters to the scene of the accident, an officer from the brigade told the Global Times on Monday.

"But as the accident site is too remote and in the mountains, fire engines could not reach the wreckage, and firefighters had to enter on foot," said a brigade officer via phone. 

Later, 538 fire and rescue personnel from all over Guangxi rushed to the scene to help with the rescue efforts.

The fire was extinguished at approximately 5:15 pm local time. No casualties have been reported as of press time.

Guangxi's health authorities has sent a team of 12 specialists in intensive care, burns and orthopedic surgery for support. The Wuzhou city's health authorities also sent more than 80 medical personnel and 36 ambulances to the scene, where they set up rescue points and prepared blood as well as all kinds of rescue supplies and equipment. More than 50 psychologists are expected to join them at the site.

Flight data from information provider VariFlight showed that after flight MU5735 took off from Kunming airport, it had been cruising at an altitude of about 8,869 meters. At 2:19 pm, the aircraft suddenly descended from cruising altitude, while flight speed also began to decrease from about 845 kilometers per hour. At 2:21, flight MU5735 lost its ADS-B radar signal also losing contact with the ground.

Judging from aircraft data, there is no information on the pilot's ground information contact. It is very likely that the aircraft lost power at cruising altitude resulting in the pilot losing control of the aircraft. This is a very serious technical failure in which the plane inevitably enters a high-speed descent, Wang Ya'nan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge told the Global Times on Monday. 

However the specific reason can only be determined when the black box has been recovered, he noted. 

In terms of aircraft casualties, the situation appears grim, and the possibility of all onboard perishing cannot be ruled out. Moreover, search and rescue is difficult due to terrain around the crash site, while the impact of wildfires will present a high risk to anyone who managed to survive the crash, he said.

Meanwhile, an unidentified number of flights departing from Kunming, Yunnan Province, operated by China Eastern Airlines Monday afternoon were canceled, including flights to Hangzhou, East China's Zhejiang Province, and Xiamen, East China's Fujian Province.

The aircraft involved is a Boeing 737-800, belonging to the Yunnan subsidiary of China Eastern Airlines and has been in operation of just over six and a half years. The plane was delivered in June 2015.

As of February 19, 2022, the continuous safe flight time of China's civil aviation transport aviation had exceeded 100 million hours, representing the best safety performance in the history of China's civil aviation industry and the best continuous safe flight record in the history of civil aviation worldwide.

Shares of China Eastern Airlines plummeted more than 10 percent in US trading premarket.