State Media: No Survivors Found in East China Plane Crash

KUNMING, China (AP) — No survivors were found as rescuers searched Tuesday the scattered wreckage of a China Eastern plane carrying 132 people that crashed a day earlier on a forested mountainside in China’s worst air disaster in over a decade.

“The wreckage of the plane was found at the scene, but so far none of the people on board the plane with whom contact was lost have been found,” said the television channel. public CCTV, more than 20 hours after the accident on Monday afternoon.

The Boeing 737-800 crashed near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region while flying from Kunming in the southwest province of Yunnan to the industrial hub of Guangzhou along the east coast. It started a fire large enough to be seen in NASA satellite images.

The crash created a deep pit in the mountainside, state news agency Xinhua reported, citing rescuers. The report said drones and a manual search would be used to try to find the black boxes, which contain flight data and cockpit voice recorders critical to crash investigations.

A base of operations has been set up near the crash site with rescue vehicles, ambulances and an emergency power supply truck parked in the narrow space. Camouflage-clad soldiers joined helmeted rescuers in orange coveralls to comb through the charred crash site and surrounding dense vegetation.

The steepness of the slope made it difficult to position heavy equipment, although with few large pieces of the aircraft remaining there seemed little need to use them.

China Eastern Flight 5735 was flying at 29,000 feet (8,840 meters) when it entered a steep and rapid dive around 2:20 p.m. local time, according to data from FlightRadar24.com. The aircraft dived to 7,400 feet (2,255 meters) before briefly regaining approximately 1,200 feet (370 meters) of altitude, then dived again. The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds after it began to dive.

The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members, the Civil Aviation Administration of China said. It was about an hour into the flight and approaching the point where it would begin to descend into Guangzhou, when it dived downward.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has called for an “all-out” rescue operation, as well as an investigation into the crash and ensuring the full safety of civil aviation.

At a hotel near the Kunming airport where the plane took off, a dozen people, some wearing jackets identifying them as members of China’s aviation agency, crowded around tables and read documents. Police and security guards at an airline office near the airport ordered the journalists to leave.

Family members of those on board began gathering at Guangzhou airport, where they were escorted to a reception center manned by employees in full protective gear against the spread of the coronavirus.

At least five hotels with more than 700 rooms have been commandeered for family members, according to reports.

The crash site is remote, accessible only by foot and motorbike, in Guangxi, a semi-tropical region of mountains and rivers renowned for some of China’s most spectacular scenery.

The region lies just east of the agricultural, mining and tourist center of Yunnan Province, whose capital is Kunming, a city of 8.5 million people that is a hub of trade with South Asia. Southeast and the northern end of a high-speed railway to neighboring countries. Laos which opened in December.

Guangzhou, to the west, is China’s traditional foreign trade capital, located at the heart of export-oriented manufacturing industries in the southeast of the country that supply smartphones, toys, furniture and other goods from all over the world and is a hub for a growing Chinese automotive industry.

Also known as Canton, the city of 18.5 million people hosts the Canton Trade Fair, the world’s largest annual trade show. The Auto City district on the northern outskirts of Guangzhou is home to one of China’s biggest automakers, GAC Group, as well as factories for joint ventures operated by Toyota and Nissan and smaller brands.

All of the more than 100 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet are grounded, China’s Transport Ministry said. Without knowing when they could fly again, the grounding could potentially further disrupt already curtailed domestic air travel as China faces its biggest coronavirus outbreak since the initial peak in early 2020.

Aviation experts said it is unusual to ground an entire fleet of planes unless there is evidence of a problem with the model. China has more 737-800s than any other country – nearly 1,200 – and if identical planes from other Chinese airlines are grounded, it “could have a significant impact on domestic travel”, the official said. IBA aviation consultant.

Boeing 737-800s have been flying since 1998 and Boeing has sold more than 5,100. They have been involved in 22 crashes that damaged the planes beyond repair and killed 612 people, according to data compiled by the Aviation Safety Network, a branch of the Flight Safety Foundation.

“There are thousands of them around the world. It certainly has had an excellent safety record,” foundation president Hassan Shahidi said of the 737-800.

The plane was not a Boeing 737 Max, the planes which were grounded around the world for nearly two years after fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

China’s aviation safety record has improved since the 1990s as air travel has increased dramatically with the rise of a burgeoning middle class. Before Monday, the last fatal accident of a Chinese airliner occurred in August 2010, when an Embraer ERJ 190-100 operated by Henan Airlines hit the ground short of the runway in the city of Yichun, in the northeast, and caught fire. It carried 96 people and 44 of them died. Investigators blamed pilot error.

China Eastern’s last fatal accident was in November 2004, when a CRJ-200 bomber plunged into a frozen lake just after takeoff from the Inner Mongolian city of Baotou, killing 53 people on board and two on the ground. The regulators blamed the ice that had accumulated on the wings.

Both the CAAC and China Eastern sent officials to the crash site. The US National Transportation Safety Board said a lead investigator had been selected to help, and the US Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the 737-800 in the 1990s, said it was ready to help if asked.

Chicago-based Boeing Co. said its experts were ready to help investigators, and the NTSB said engine maker CFM, a joint venture between General Electric and France’s Safran, would provide technical assistance with engine problems.

Aircraft accident investigations are usually conducted by officials from the country where the accident occurred, but usually include the manufacturer and the investigator or regulator from the manufacturer’s home country.

Based in Shanghai, China Eastern is one of the country’s top three airlines, serving 248 domestic and overseas destinations.

The aircraft was delivered to the airliner by Boeing in June 2015 and had been flying for over six years. China Eastern Airlines uses the Boeing 737-800 as the mainstay of its fleet – the airline has more than 600 planes, and 109 are Boeing 737-800s.

The single-aisle, twin-engine Boeing 737 in various versions has been flying for more than 50 years and is one of the most popular aircraft in the world for short and medium-haul flights.

The later 737 Max was grounded for about 20 months after two crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia killed 346 people. China in December became the last major market to allow the Max to return to service, although Chinese airlines have yet to resume flying the Max.

The deadliest accident involving a Boeing 737-800 occurred in January 2020, when Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing 176 people.

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Associated Press researcher Yu Bing and press assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing, researcher Si Chen in Shanghai, writer Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, UAE, video producer Penny Wang and writer Adam Schreck in Bangkok and airline writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

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