China Eastern confirms fatalities after plane with 132 aboard crashes in Guangxi

Rescuers working at the site of the plane crash in Wuzhou city, in China's southern Guangxi region on March 21, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
The aircraft crashed in Tengxian County in the city of Wuzhou, causing a mountain fire. PHOTOS: CGTN/TWITTER, SCREENGRAB FROM PEOPLE'S DAILY, CHINA/TWITTER
Rescue services on their way to the scene of the crash. PHOTO: AFP
Relatives of passengers of the crashed China Eastern flight at a special holding area in Guangzhou’s Baiyun Airport. PHOTO: AFP
Staff waiting to guide relatives of passengers of the crashed flight to a holding area in Guangzhou's Baiyun airport. PHOTO: AFP
Police at the entrance of a village leading to the site of the plane crash. PHOTO: AFP
Security and airline staff outside China Eastern's offices in Kunming after the crash. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING - A China Eastern Airlines plane crashed on Monday (March 21) in Guangxi, with many of those aboard feared dead in one of China’s worst civil aviation disasters  in recent years.

The airline has confirmed there are fatalities.

"The company expresses its deep condolences for the passengers and crew members who died in the plane crash," China Eastern said in a statement. It did not provide more information.

Flight MU5735 had 132 people on board, 123 of whom were passengers and nine crew.

Nearly 1,000 rescuers have been dispatched to where the plane went down in Teng County but fading light and challenging terrain complicated rescue efforts. 

“A Boeing 737 of China Eastern Airlines lost contact over Wuzhou during the Kunming-Guangzhou flight,” the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a brief statement yesterday afternoon. “The plane is now confirmed to have crashed.” 

 Shanghai-headquartered China Eastern has turned its website and social media pages to black and white in a sign of mourning.

The website of China Eastern Airlines presented in black and white. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM CEAIR.COM

Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered a full investigation into the incident to ensure the “absolute safety of aviation operations”. 

The CAAC and Ministry of Emergency management have sent teams to help with search and rescue efforts, including rescuers from both Guangdong and Guangxi.

Rescuers told state broadcaster CCTV on Monday night that a lack of power and difficult terrain hampered their efforts. Guangxi is famed for its unique landscape and its northeast is home to sheer limestone cliffs known as karsts. 

Teng County is in a mountainous region close to the Guangdong border. 

Local residents said the crash caused a small forest fire and also reported seeing plane debris scattered across the terrain, lowering hopes of any possible survivors.

Surveillance footage from a local mining company showed a plane nose diving before crashing into dense foliage.

Remote video URL

Flight tracking data showed the six-year-old plane was flying steadily on its flight path until it abruptly lost altitude at about 2.20pm, plunging some 8,000m in two minutes.

The plane was not a Boeing 737 Max, the model that was grounded around the world after two deadly crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. 

The jet involved in Monday's crash was a Boeing 737-800, widely considered one of the safest planes ever made.

China Eastern, the country’s second largest carrier by passenger numbers, has 102 of the jets, all of which have been grounded, according to state broadcaster CCTV.

In Guangzhou’s Baiyun Airport, where the flight was meant to have landed on Monday afternoon, local media reported dozens of family members waiting in a special holding area for more information, with some quietly sobbing.

A relative in the holding area for family members of passengers of the crashed flight at Guangzhou’s Baiyun Airport. PHOTO: AFP

Monday's crash was China’s worst aviation disaster in over a decade.

In 2010, an Embraer E190 operated by Henan Airlines crashed on approach to Yichun Lindu Airport in Heilongjiang during heavy fog, killing 44 of the 96 on board. 

In November 2004, a China Eastern plane crashed two minutes after takeoff in Inner Mongolia, killing all 53 on board and two more on the ground. 

It was the carrier’s deadliest accident to date and was caused by ground crew not deicing the plane while it was parked on the tarmac.

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