Boeing 737 carrying 132 people crashes in southern China, officials say

A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in southern China on Monday, officials said, in the country’s worst air disaster in nearly a decade.

There was no immediate word on survivors.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement the crash occurred near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region. The flight was travelling from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan to the industrial centre of Guangzhou along the east coast, CAAC said.

Villagers were first to arrive at the forested area where the plane went down, sparking a blaze big enough to be seen on NASA satellite images. Hundreds of rescue workers were swiftly dispatched from Guangxi and neighbouring Guangdong province.

The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members, the CAAC said, correcting earlier reports that 133 people had been on board.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an “all-out effort” to be made in the rescue operation, for post-crash arrangements to be handled appropriately and potential safety hazards investigated to ensure complete civil aviation flight safety.

In this image taken from video footage run by China’s CCTV, emergency personnel prepare to travel to the site of the plane crash near Wuzhou in Guangxi on Monday. (CCTV/The Associated Press)

State media reported all 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet were ordered grounded, while broadcaster CCTV said the airliner had set up nine teams to deal with aircraft disposal, accident investigation, family assistance and other pressing matters.

The CAAC and China Eastern both said they sent officials to the crash site in accordance with emergency measures.

State media said local police first received calls from villagers alerting them about the crash around 2:30 p.m. local time. Guangxi’s emergency management department said contact with the plane was lost at 2:15 p.m. local time.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. said it was aware of the initial reports of the crash and was “working to gather more information.” Boeing stock dropped over eight per cent in pre-market trading early Monday.

Headquartered in Shanghai, China Eastern is one of China’s top three airlines, operating scores of domestic and international routes serving 248 destinations.

Stopped transmitting

China Eastern’s flight No. 5735 had been travelling at around 30,000 feet when suddenly, just after 2:20 p.m. local time, the plane entered a deep dive at its cruising altitude speed of 455 knots (842 km/h), according to data from flight-tracking website The data suggests the plane crashed within a minute and a half of whatever went wrong.

The plane stopped transmitting data just southwest of the Chinese city of Wuzhou, a city of three million in eastern Guangxi.

A worker from China Eastern holds a sign waiting to lead relatives of people aboard flight MU5735 to a cordoned-off area in Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport in Guangdong province on Monday. (Chinatopix/The Associated Press)

The aircraft was delivered to China Eastern from Boeing in June 2015 and had been flying for over six years. China Eastern Airlines uses the Boeing 737-800 as one of the main workhorses of its fleet — of its over 600 planes, 109 are Boeing 737-800s.

China Eastern gave its website a black-and-white homepage after the crash.

The crash quickly became a leading topic on China’s Weibo social media platform, with 1.34 billion views and 690,000 discussions. Many posts expressed condolences to the families of victims.

Boeing began delivering the 737-800 to customers in 1997 and delivered the last of the series to China Eastern in 2020. It made over 5,200 of the narrow-body aircraft, a popular, single-aisle commuter plane.

The twin-engine, single-aisle Boeing 737 is one of the world’s most popular planes for short- and medium-haul flights. China Eastern operates multiple versions of the common aircraft, including the 737-800 and the 737 Max.

The deadliest crash involving a Boeing 737-800 came in January 2020, when Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing all 176 people on board.

The 737 Max version was grounded worldwide after two fatal crashes. China’s aviation regulator cleared that plane to return to service late last year, making the country the last major market to do so.

China’s last deadly crash of a civilian jetliner was in 2010.

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