China plane crash: Rescuers see ‘no signs of life’ at crash site, says report

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BEIJING: Firefighters have found no signs of life among the debris of a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 which crashed with 132 people on board in mountains in southern China during a domestic flight on Monday (March 21) according to local media reports.

According to Reuters, local media cited a rescue official as saying the plane, following a sudden descent from cruising altitude, had disintegrated and caused a fire destroying bamboo trees. The People’s Daily quoted a provincial firefighting department official as saying there was no sign of life among the debris.

The plane was flying from the southwestern city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, bordering Hong Kong.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash, in which the plane descended at a final rate of 31,000 feet a minute, according to flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.

“Can confirm the plane has crashed,” China Eastern Airlines said in a statement in which it also gave details of a hotline for relatives of those on board.

The aircraft, with 123 passengers and nine crew on board, lost contact over the city of Wuzhou, china’s Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and the airline said.

The flight left Kunming at 1.11pm (0511 GMT), FlightRadar24 data showed, and had been due to land in Guangzhou at 3.05pm (0705 GMT).

The plane, which Flightradar24 said was six years old, had been cruising at an altitude of 29,100 feet at 0620 GMT. Just over two mins and 15 seconds later, data showed it had descended to 9,075 feet.

In another 20 seconds, its last tracked altitude was 3,225 feet.

Crashes during the cruise phase of flight are relatively rare even though it accounts for the majority of flight time.

Boeing found in a report last year that only 13% of fatal commercial accidents globally between 2011 and 2020 occurred during the cruise phase, whereas 28% of fatal accidents occurred on final approach and 26% on landing.

Online weather data showed partly cloudy conditions with good visibility in Wuzhou at the time of the crash.

China President Xi Jinping called for investigators to determine the cause of the crash as soon as possible and to ensure “absolute” aviation safety, state broadcaster CCTV reported.

A Boeing spokesperson said: “We are aware of the initial media reports and are working to gather more information.”

Shares of Boeing Co were down 6.4% at $180.44 in premarket trade.

Shares in China Eastern Airlines in Hong Kong closed down 6.5% after news of the crash broke, while its US-listed shares slumped 17% in premarket trading.

Aviation data provider OAG said this month that state-owned China Eastern Airlines was the world’s sixth-largest by scheduled weekly seat capacity and the biggest in China.

The 737-800 model that crashed on Monday has a good safety record and is the predecessor to the 737 MAX model that has been grounded in China for more than three years following fatal crashes in 2018 in Indonesia and 2019 in Ethiopia.

China Eastern has 109 of the 737-800s in its fleet and another 40 of the smaller 737-700s of the same generation, according to FlightRadar24.

The safety record of China’s airline industry has been among the best in the world over the past decade.

“The CAAC has very rigid safety regulations and we will just need to wait for more details to help shed light on the plausible cause of the accident,” said Shukor Yusof, head of Malaysia-based aviation consultancy Endau Analytics. Investigators will be looking to recover the plane’s two so-called black boxes – the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder – to help shed light on the crash.

China’s aviation safety record, while good, is also less transparent than in countries like the United States and Australia where regulators release detailed reports on non-fatal incidents, said Greg Waldron, Asia managing editor at industry publication Flightglobal.

“This makes it hard to get a sense of the true situation with Chinese carriers,” he said. “There have been concerns that there is some underreporting of safety lapses on the mainland.”

According to Aviation Safety Network, China’s last fatal jet accident was in 2010, when 44 of 96 people on board were killed when an Embraer E-190 regional jet flown by Henan Airlines crashed on approach to Yichun airport in low visibility.

In 1994, a China Northwest Airlines Tupolev Tu-154 crashed en route from Xian to Guangzhou, killing all 160 people on board and ranking as China’s worst-ever air disaster, according to Aviation Safety Network.

Below are some notable crashes by commercial planes in mainland China over the past four decades, according to the Aviation Safety Network, CCAonline.cn, and Chinese state media.

2010 – An Embraer E-190 regional jet flown by Henan Airlines crashed on approach to Yichun airport in low visibility, killing 44 of 96 people on board.

2004 – A china Eastern plane crashed on Nov. 21, shortly after it took off from an airport in North china, killing 55.

2002 – A china Northern Airlines plane carrying 112 people plunged into the sea off the northeast coastal city of Dalian on May 7. There were no survivors.

2000 – A Wuhan Airlines passenger plane was struck by lightning and exploded in midair, crashing in central china on June 22, killing at least 42 on board.

1999 – On Feb. 24, china Southwest Airlines 4509 flying from Chengdu to Wenzhou disintegrated in mid-air and crashed into a village near Wenzhou, killing all 61 people on board.

1997 – china Southern Airlines Flight 3456, a Boeing 737, crashed in Shenzhen during poor weather, killing 35 of 74 people on board.

1994 – china Northwest Airlines Flight 2303 from Xian to Guangzhou crashed on June 6, killing all 160 people on board.

1993 – A china Northern Airlines jet crashed as it prepared to land in western china, killing 12 people.

1993 – On July 23, a china Northwest Airlines aircraft crashed into a lake after failing to get airborne during takeoff at Yinchuan Airport, killing 55 people.

1992 – On Nov. 24, a China Southern Airlines flight crashed on descent at Guilin Airport, killing 141 people aboard.

1988 – In October, 46 people were killed when a Shanxi Airlines jet crashed in Linfen in Shanxi province.

1988 – On Jan. 18, a china Southwest Airlines crashed in Southwest china’s Chongqing, killing 108 people.

1985 – A china Civil Aviation airliner carrying 41 people crashed on landing in the eastern city of Jinan on Jan. 18, 1985, killing 38 people.

1982 – On April 26, 1982, a china Civil Aviation passenger jet crashed in Guangxi, killing 112.