China seeks victims, black box after first plane crash in 12 years

Relatives of passengers on the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 that crashed in Wuzhou are awaiting news
People stand at an area where relatives of the passengers of the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane that crashed in Wuzhou on the flight from Kunming to Guangzhou, at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in Guangzhou, Guangdong province, China, April 21, 2022. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

March 22, 2022

By Martin Quin Pollard

WUZHOU, China (Reuters) – Rescue workers in China combed thickly forested hillsides on Tuesday, with fading hopes of finding survivors of the 132 people on board a China Eastern Airlines passenger plane that crashed in the mountains of southern Guangxi a day earlier .

Parts of the Boeing 737-800 jet were strewn over fire-charred mountainsides after China’s first commercial plane crash since 2010. Burned remains of ID cards, purses and wallets were also seen, state media reported.

Flight MU5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou in Guangdong province on the border with Hong Kong when it suddenly crashed from cruising altitude, about the time it would normally do before landing would begin to decline.

Chinese media showed brief freeway video footage from a vehicle’s dashcam, which appeared to show a jet dove to the ground behind trees at an angle of about 35 degrees from vertical. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.

“The plane fell straight out of the sky,” the state-run Beijing Youth Daily quoted a local resident as saying.

“Even though I was far away, I could still see it was an airplane. The aircraft emitted no smoke during the fall. It fell into the mountains and started a fire.”

Lu, 64, a villager near the crash site who declined to give his first name, told Reuters he heard a “bang, bang” at the time of the crash. “It was like thunder!” he said.

State media have described the situation as “grim” and that the possibility of everyone on board dying cannot be ruled out.

A working group from China’s aviation authority was deployed to the crash site along with firefighters and paramilitary forces.

Vice Premier Liu He traveled to the city of Wuzhou in Guangxi on Monday evening to oversee rescue efforts and investigation into the crash following an emergency government meeting.

State media described the crash site as surrounded by mountains on three sides and only accessible by a tiny trail. Rain was forecast for the area this week.

The authorities prohibited journalists and onlookers from approaching the site and kept the road clear for emergency vehicles.


US-based aviation analyst Robert Mann of RW Mann & Company said investigators would need the flight data recorders to understand what might have caused the abrupt descent suggested by the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) data became. ADS-B is a technology that allows aircraft to be tracked.

The crash comes as Boeing tries to recover from multiple overlapping crises, including the coronavirus pandemic and crashes involving its 737 MAX model. The Cockpit Voice Recorder could also provide clues as to what went wrong once found.

“Accidents that begin at cruising altitude are usually caused by weather, deliberate sabotage or pilot error,” Dan Elwell, a former Federal Aviation Administration chief, told Reuters.

Elwell, who led the FAA during the 737 MAX crisis, said mechanical failures in modern airliners are rare at cruising altitude.

China Eastern and two of its subsidiaries grounded their fleet of 737-800 aircraft on Monday, state media reported. The group has 225 aircraft, according to data from the British aviation consultancy IBA.

Other Chinese airlines have yet to cancel any of their 737-800 aircraft flights as of Tuesday, according to Chinese aeronautical data provider Flight Master.

China Eastern land-listed shares fell more than 6.5% on Tuesday, while Hong Kong-traded shares fell almost 6%.

Dinglong Culture, a Guangzhou-headquartered company whose businesses range from entertainment to titanium mining, said Tuesday its chief financial officer, Fang Fang, was on the flight. The company said it is closely following rescue developments and will arrange support for her family.

The last commercial plane crash in China was in 2010, when an Embraer E-190 regional jet flown by Henan Airlines crashed, killing 44 of 96 people on board.

(Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard in Wuzhou, Ryan Woo and Stella Qiu in Beijing, Jason Xue and Brenda Goh in Shanghai, Jamie Freed in Sydney, Allison Lampert in Montreal and Eric M Johnson in Seattle. Editing by Gerry Doyle & Simon Cameron-Moore ) China seeks victims, black box after first plane crash in 12 years

Bobby Allyn

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