A Chinese airplane with 132 people on board suddenly crashed from a great height in southern China. The Boeing 737 of China Eastern Airlines plummeted from more than 8000 meters, air traffic control reported Monday. On board were 123 passengers and 9 crew members.
Nothing was initially known about the cause or the number of victims. It was the worst airplane accident in China in almost twelve years
The accident happened in a remote, hilly area near the city of Wuzhou in southern China's Guangxi region. The plane, with flight number MU5735, was en route from Kunming in Yunnan province to Guangzhou in Guangdong province.
Rescue teams were immediately assembled and dispatched to the accident site in Teng County, state media reported. A forest fire developed over an area of four hectares after the crash, but it was later extinguished. The crash site is located about 300 kilometers west of Guangzhou.
Videos circulating on the Chinese Internet, a high, white cloud of smoke could be seen in the hills. Also shown were widely scattered debris that local residents had filmed with their cell phones. A video wanted to show the plane crashing to the ground almost upside down. The authenticity of the videos could not be confirmed. Villagers reported debris lying everywhere. Clothes had also been hanging in the trees.
There was speculation about the cause of the sudden crash. "Even if both engines of the Boeing 737 had failed at the same time, it would be impossible to fall at such a speed because the aircraft could still glide a distance," an expert was quoted as saying by state media.
China's State and Party leader Xi Jinping called on the airline to deal appropriately with the aftermath of the accident and investigate potential threats to air traffic, state television reported. China Eastern Airlines immediately ordered all Boeing 737s in its fleet to remain grounded for the time being.
The aviation authority in Beijing confirmed there were 132 people on board, including 9 crew members. Initial reports had mentioned 133 occupants.
The aircraft was a Boeing 737-800NG, said to be just under seven years old. A few minutes after initial reports of the accident, the status of the flight was changed to "crashed" on a mobile travel app. The airline itself changed the color on its website to black, white, and shades of gray to express its grief.
China's aviation looks back on a relatively safe decade. The last major plane crash occurred in August 2010 in Yichun, Heilongjiang Province in northeast China. A crash landing of a Brazilian Embraer aircraft operated by Henan Airlines killed 44 occupants and 52 survived.
Photo by John McArthur