A US-built Boeing 737-800 belonging to China Eastern Airlines crashed Monday in the southern province of Guangxi, presumably killing all 132 people on board instantly, in what has become the worst civilian air disaster in the country since 2010.
The plane, which was serving the Kunming-Guangzhou route, had 123 passengers and 9 crew members on board, according to a statement from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
Flight MU5735 took off at 13.15 local time (05.15 GMT) before plunging to the ground in the Guangxi region. No information was made available on possible survivors or on what would have caused the accident.
The last air tragedy reported by Chinese aviation was on August 24, 2010, when a Henan Airlines flight crashed in the city of Yichun in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang, killing 44 people. However, in 2016, five people died in another accident in Shanghai involving a Joyair seaplane that was making its inaugural flight with ten people on board.
Rescue teams and around 650 troops were sent from different parts of southern China. Chances of finding any survivors were deemed almost non-existent, given the altitude from which the aircraft fell to the ground.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was shocked, and the State (Executive) Council formed a committee to investigate both the causes of the accident as soon as possible and other possible safety problems in the civil aviation sector with the aim of guaranteeing the absolute safety of aviation operations.
The flight was scheduled to last one hour and forty minutes, during which the nearly seven-year-old aircraft was to fly the 1,357 kilometers from Kunming to Guangzhou. According to FlightRadar24, the aircraft was flying at 14.19 local time (06.19 GMT) at an altitude of 29,100 feet (8,870 meters) when, about 55 kilometers west of the town of Wuzhou, it began to descend. The last point of contact was about 25 kilometers southwest of Wuzhou, at an altitude of 3,225 feet (989 meters), at 14.22 local time (06.22 GMT).
Chine Eastern immediately ordered all its 737-800 aircraft to remain grounded until further details of what happened are available. China Eastern shares in New York lost 16.03% in pre-market trading, while Boeing shares also dropped 8% in London and 6.6% in New York.
The plane looked to be in one piece when it nosedived. Within seconds, it crashed, an eyewitness told Xinhua. He added that the crash site was a gap in a mountain where no residents lived.
China Eastern Airlines also said that it had activated a response mechanism of nine special working groups for aircraft disposal, accident investigation, family assistance, logistics support, legal support, public relations, security, financial insurance, and cargo disposal.