Beijing A China Eastern passenger plane carrying 132 people crashed in southern China on Monday, aviation authorities said. China’s state media said the accident led to a mountain fire and an unknown number of casualties.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) said in an online announcement that a Boeing 737 flight from Kunming to the southern hub of Guangzhou “lost air contact over Wuzhou” in Guangxi region.
“At present, it has been confirmed that this flight has crashed,” the Civil Aviation Administration said, adding that it had activated the emergency response and “sent a working group to the scene of the accident.” The authority said that the plane was carrying 123 passengers and 9 flight crew members. An earlier report by state media had stated that there were 133 people on board.
State broadcaster CCTV reported that the plane crashed in Teng County near Wuzhou and “caused a fire in the mountain,” citing the provincial emergency management office. The crash site was about 150 miles from the destination of Guangzhou, which means that the plane made about 500 miles of its flight.
The state-run People’s Daily News said 117 rescuers were working at the crash site and 650 rescuers and firefighters, organized by the Guangxi Fire Department, were heading to the site. Crews of the Guangxi Fire Service are struggling to put out a hillside fire caused by the crash, and satellite data from NASA showed a massive fire in the area.
CCTV said China Eastern had set up nine separate teams to work on everything from disposing of the wreckage to investigating the accident and helping the families of passengers.
“We were shocked to learn of the East China MU5735 incident,” state broadcaster CCTV quoted Chinese President Xi Jinping as saying. He also called for “all efforts” to be made to rescue the survivors and to find out “the cause of the accident as soon as possible.”
There was no immediate response from China Eastern or Boeing when CBS News contacted the two companies on Monday. The airline changed its website to black and white on Monday afternoon.
Flight tracker FlightRadar24 showed no further data on flight MU5735 after 2:22 p.m. local time, when it arrived in Wuzhou. It showed the plane descended sharply from an altitude of 29,100 feet to 3,225 feet within three minutes, before flight information ceased.
The plane was delivered to China Eastern by Boeing in June 2015, according to the Associated Press. The Boeing 737 single-aisle twin-engine airliner is one of the world’s most widely used passenger jet aircraft for short and medium-haul flights. China Eastern operates various versions of the 737, including the 737-800, which crashed on Monday, and the 737 Max, which was. China’s aviation regulator cleared Max to return to service late last year – the latest national regulator to do so in a major travel market.
After the collapse on Monday, China’s financial news agency Yicai, based in the economic hub in Shanghai, reported that China Eastern would ground all of its 737-800 planes pending investigation, but the airline did not immediately confirm the news.
The US Federal Aviation Administration told CBS News in a statement on Monday that it was “aware of reports that a Boeing 737-800 of China Eastern Airlines has crashed” in China. The agency said it was ready to help investigate the accident “if requested” by Chinese authorities, along with the National Transportation Safety Board, but indicated that China would take the lead by default.
A villager told a local news site that the plane involved in the crash was “completely wrecked” and saw nearby wooded areas devastated by a fire when the plane crashed into a mountainside.
Concerns over the plane’s fate spread Monday afternoon as local media reported that China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 did not arrive as planned in Guangzhou after taking off from Kunming shortly after 1:00 pm (0500 GMT).
China has had an enviable track record on air safety in recent years in a country where newly built airports are intersected and served by new airlines created to keep pace with the country’s rapid growth over the past few decades.
A Henan Airlines plane crashed in northeastern Heilongjiang Province in 2010, killing at least 42 of the 92 people on board, although the final toll has not been confirmed.
This was the last Chinese commercial airliner crash that caused civilian casualties. The deadliest Chinese commercial airliner crash was the 1994 China Northwest Airlines crash that killed all 160 people on board.
Most of the passengers were on board Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, which disappeared in March 2014 en route from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, from China.
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