No survivors found after China Eastern Airlines plane crashed carrying 132 people

Rescue workers at the site of the plane crash in Tengxian County, Guangxi region, southern China, on March 22, 2022. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Rescue vehicles arrive at Fenghuang village, near the site of the plane crash, in Wuzhou. on March 22, 2022. PHOTO: AFP
A Buddhist ceremony in honour of the plane crash victims near the site of the crash in Wuzhou, China, on March 22, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Plane debris is seen at the crash site, in Wuzhou, China, on March 21, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS
Paramilitary police officers conducting a search at the site in Tengxian county, Wuzhou city, China, on March 21, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING -  China’s civil aviation officials said on Tuesday (March 22) night that they had found no survivors more than 30 hours after a China Eastern Airlines plane went down in the country’s worst aviation disaster in over a decade.

The investigation team also faced a very serious challenge because of severe damage to the aircraft, the officials added.

“Up to now, search and rescue work has not found any survivors,” said Mr Zhu Tao, director of the aviation safety office at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), at the first official press conference since the crash.

“As the investigation has just begun, with the current information, we are unable to make a clear judgment on the cause of the accident,” he said.

Mr Zhu also said the investigators would focus on the search for the plane’s black boxes - two crash-proof recording devices - at the crash site. 

He was speaking to reporters in Wuzhou city in the south-western autonomous region of Guangxi, close to where MU5735 had suddenly nosedived while on a regular flight from Kunming to Guangzhou.

Mr Sun Shiying, chairman of China Eastern’s Yunnan branch, told reporters that the plane “met airworthiness standards before taking off and technical conditions were stable.”

The Boeing 737-800 is believed to have plunged into a steep and heavily wooded valley in a region known for its spectacular terrain. Teng County, where the main crash site is located, is just over three hours’ drive from Guangzhou. 

Search and rescue workers have said difficult terrain in the mountainous area, along with torrential rain, have severely hampered efforts. Firefighters and police were seen picking through personal belongings and plane debris, including what appeared to be a plane door, state media footage showed.

The images also showed a burnt wallet and identity cards.

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All 132 on board were Chinese nationals, consisting of 123 passengers, three pilots, five flight attendants and one security officer. 

Local rescuers were still holding on to hope that survivors could be found, with a convoy of ambulances on standby on Tuesday.

Relatives of all on board have been contacted and come from all over the country, said Mr Sun.

“We will do our utmost to care for the family members,” he said, urging them to “remain in your area of residence” due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases. 

Guangxi reported 27 new infections on Tuesday, with nine cases imported and the rest asymptomatic. 

The authorities in Teng County cleared out five hotels in the area for rescuers and relatives to be closer to the crash site.

Local volunteers guard a roadblock at Langnan village, near the site of the plane crash, in Wuzhou, on March 23, 2022. PHOTO: AFP

Airline officials said earlier that the Boeing 737-800, widely regarded as one of the safest aircraft models in the world, had gone into service in June 2015 and was in good health, clocking up some 18,239 flight hours. 

However, they sidestepped questions about whether investigators from the United States National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) will be allowed expedited passage into China to assist with investigations. 

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The NTSB announced on Monday that it had appointed a senior investigator to work with the CAAC on its crash probe. They will be assisted by representatives from Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration.

Vice-Premier Liu He and State Councillor Wang Yong, who are in charge of rescue efforts, have inspected the crash site. “We need to release information in a timely accurate, open and transparent manner,” they told officials at a meeting after their field visit. 

A news conference after a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane crashed, in Wuzhou, China, on March 22, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

The jet’s nosedive from 29,000 feet (8,840m) has also baffled aviation specialists. It reportedly took just 1 minute and 35 seconds to disappear from tracking sites after the abrupt plunge.

“It’s an odd profile,” Mr John Cox, an aviation safety consultant and former Boeing 737 pilot, told Bloomberg News. “It’s hard to get the airplane to do this.”

The jet is also not a Boeing 737 Max, which was grounded worldwide after two deadly accidents in Indonesia and Ethiopia.

Monday’s crash is China’s first fatal commercial airliner crash since 2010.

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