A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in a mountainous area near southern China on Monday afternoon, officials said. The crash marks the country’s worst air disaster in over a decade.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) said in a statement that the accident occurred near the city of Wuzhou in the region of Guangxi. The flight was traveling from Kunming in the southwestern province of Yunnan to Guangzhou along the coast when the plane lost all contact with air traffic control, the statement said.
The airliner was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members, the CAAC said, adding that there is no immediate word on survivors at this time and the cause of the crash remains under investigation.
Flight tracking data from FlightRadar24 showed that China Eastern Flight 5735 plunged more than 25,000 feet in less than two minutes before crashing. According to AP News, the impact zone sparked a blaze big enough to be seen on NASA satellite images.
Hundreds of rescue workers were swiftly dispatched from Guangxi and neighboring Guangdong Province after villagers first saw thick smoke emitting from the crash site.
“China Eastern Airlines has activated the emergency mechanism, dispatched a working group to the scene, and opened a special line for emergency assistance to family members,” the airline said in a statement posted to its Weibo account.
No details on exact cause of crash
No immediate details were released on the possible cause of the crash, but Boeing said in a statement that it was “aware of the initial media reports and working to gather more information.”
Boeing shares were down more than 5 percent in early trading Monday morning after news of the crash surfaced.
The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also said in a statement today that it was “aware of reports that a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 plane crashed this morning in China,” and said “the agency is ready to assist in investigation efforts if asked.”
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic news of China Eastern flight MU5735. We extend our heartfelt sympathies to the families and the loved ones of those on board,” said CFM International, a joint venture of General Electric and France’s Safran, which manufactures engine parts for the planes.
Rescue operations underway
Following the crash, Chinese leader Xi Jinping said he was shocked to hear about the accident and called for an “all-out rescue operation” and investigation in order to “identify the causes of the accident,” state media reported.
State media also reported all 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet were ordered grounded after the accident took place, while Chinese mouthpiece CCTV said the airliner had set up nine teams to deal with “aircraft disposal, accident investigation, family assistance and other pressing matters.”
Surveillance data showed the Boeing 737-800 had been at a cruising altitude of 29,000 feet when it started a rapid descent. The dive stopped briefly near 10,000 feet, before resuming, according to the data. Flight data was then completely lost at 3,200 feet and the immediate cause of the crash is presumed to have been an engine malfunction.
The 737-800 is one of the world’s most common jetliners, with more than 4,200 in service worldwide and 1,177 in Chinese airliners — the most of any country — according to aviation data and consulting firm Cirium.
China’s last reported deadly crash occurred in 2010, when 42 people died on a Henan Airlines Embraer E-190 flight departing from Harbin to Yichun city in Heilongjiang Province.