Rescuers examined the dispersed wreckage of a China Eastern plane carrying 132 people that crashed a day earlier on a forested slope in China’s biggest air tragedy in more than a decade on Tuesday, but discovered no survivors.
“Wreckage of the plane was located at the scene, but no one aboard the jet with whom contact was lost has been found up till now,” state television CCTV added, more than 20 hours after the disaster.
While travelling from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan to the industrial capital of Guangzhou on the east coast, a Boeing 737-800 crashed near Wuzhou in the Guangxi area. It started a fire that was visible on NASA satellite photographs.
According to the official Xinhua News Agency, which cited rescuers, the accident dug a deep trench in the slope. Drones and a physical search, according to the article, would be employed to try to locate the black boxes, which include flight data and cockpit voice recorders that are critical to accident investigations.
Rescue trucks, ambulances, and an emergency power supply truck were placed in the restricted space near the collision scene as a base of operations. Camouflaged soldiers worked alongside helmeted rescue workers in orange jump suits to search the burnt crash scene and surrounding dense forest.
The steepness of the hill made situating heavy equipment problematic, albeit there appeared to be little need for it given the few substantial bits of the aircraft that remained.
According to data from FlightRadar24.com, China Eastern Flight 5735 was flying at 29,000 feet (8,840 meters) when it commenced a steep, quick descent about 2:20 p.m. local time. The jet plummeted to 7,400 feet (2,255 meters) before momentarily regaining altitude of roughly 1,200 feet (370 meters) before diving again. After 96 seconds of diving, the plane ceased transmitting data.
According to China’s Civil Aviation Administration, the jet was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members. When it tilted downward, it was roughly an hour into the journey and reaching the point where it would begin descending into Guangzhou.
President Xi Jinping of China has called for a “all-out” rescue operation, as well as an investigation into the tragedy and the total safety of public aviation.
About a dozen individuals clustered around tables in a hotel near the Kunming airport where the jet took off, some wearing jackets identifying them as representatives of China’s aviation bureau. Journalists were asked to leave an airline office near the airport by police and security guards.
Family members of those on board began arriving at Guangzhou International Airport, where they were brought to a welcome facility supervised by personnel wearing full protective gear to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
According to estimates, at least five hotels with over 700 rooms have been requisitioned for family members.
The accident site lies in Guangxi, a semitropical region of mountains and rivers known for some of China’s most stunning landscape, and is only accessible by foot or motorcycle.
The region is immediately east of Yunnan province’s agricultural, mining, and tourism powerhouse, Kunming, a metropolis of 8.5 million people that serves as a commerce gateway for Southeast Asia and the northern terminus of a high-speed train to neighboring Laos that opened in December.
Guangzhou, China’s historic international trade center, is located in the country’s southeast, at the core of export-driven manufacturing industries that provide the world’s cellphones, toys, furniture, and other commodities, and serves as a hub for the country’s burgeoning car industry.
The Canton Trade Fair, the world’s largest annual trade exhibition, is held in the metropolis of 18.5 million people, also known as Canton. The Auto City neighborhood on Guangzhou’s northern suburbs is home to GAC Group, one of China’s largest state-owned automakers, as well as plants for Toyota and Nissan joint ventures and smaller brands.
China Eastern’s fleet of more than 100 737-800s has been grounded, according to the Chinese Transport Ministry. The grounding may possibly further affect domestic air travel, which is already being constrained as China struggles with its greatest coronavirus epidemic since the original peak in early 2020, with no news on when they would be able to fly again.
According to aviation experts, grounding a full fleet of planes is rare unless there is proof of a problem with the model. China has approximately 1,200 737-800s, more than any other country, and if other Chinese carriers’ planes are grounded, it “may have a considerable impact on domestic travel,” according to aviation analyst IBA.
Boeing 737-800s have been in service since 1998, with over 5,100 units sold. According to statistics provided by the Aviation Safety Network, an arm of the Flight Safety Foundation, they were involved in 22 incidents that damaged the planes beyond repair and killed 612 people.
“There are tens of thousands of them all around the globe.” Hassan Shahidi, the foundation’s president, said of the 737-800, “It’s undoubtedly had a good safety record.”
The jet wasn’t a Boeing 737 Max, which has been grounded for over two years following tragic disasters in 2018 and 2019.
Since the 1990s, China’s air-safety record has improved as air travel has increased rapidly with the advent of a growing middle class. The last fatal Chinese airplane disaster happened in August 2010, when a Henan Airlines Embraer ERJ 190-100 hit the ground short of the runway in the northeastern city of Yichun and caught fire. It carried 96 passengers, 44 of whom perished. Pilot mistake was blamed by investigators.
The latest fatal disaster for China Eastern occurred in November 2004, when a bombardier CRJ-200 crashed into a frozen lake shortly after takeoff from Baotou, Inner Mongolia, killing 53 persons on board and two on the ground. Ice that had accumulated on the wings was blamed by regulators.
Officials from both the CAAC and China Eastern were dispatched to the incident site. The US National Transportation Safety Board has designated a senior investigator to assist, and the US Federal Aviation Administration, which approved the 737-800 in the 1990s, has stated that it is willing to assist if requested.
The NTSB said engine maker CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and France’s Safran, will give technical assistance on engine concerns, while Chicago-based Boeing Co. said its specialists were ready to assist investigators.
Officials in the nation where the crash happened normally lead plane crash investigations, although they often include the manufacturer and an investigator or regulator from the manufacturer’s home country.
China Eastern, based in Shanghai, is one of the country’s top three airlines, flying to 248 local and international destinations.
Boeing transferred the plane to the airliner in June 2015, and it had been flying for more than six years. The Boeing 737-800 is the workhorse of China Eastern Airlines’ fleet; the carrier has almost 600 planes, 109 of which are Boeing 737-800s.
The twin-engine, single-aisle Boeing 737 has been flying for more than 50 years and is one of the most popular short- and medium-haul planes in the world.
After two disasters in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people, the 737 Max, a later variant, was grounded for roughly 20 months. China became the last major market to approve the Max for resumption of service in December, however Chinese carriers have yet to begin flights.
The most deadly Boeing 737-800 catastrophe occurred in January 2020, when Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard shot down a Ukraine International Airlines aircraft, killing 176 people.