The disaster prompted an unusually swift public reaction from President Xi Jinping, who said he was ‘shocked’ and ordered an immediate investigation into its cause
A commercial airliner of the China Eastern carrying 132 passengers crashed into a mountain in Kunming in southern China on Monday causing a massive fire. The aeroplane had lost contact with air traffic control and lost thousands of metres in altitude in a mere three minutes.
The airline acknowledged that some aboard the Boeing 737-800 travelling from the city of Kunming to the southern hub of Guangzhou had died, but did not offer more specifics.
“The company expresses its deep condolences for the passengers and crew members who died in the plane crash,” the airline said in a statement. The cause of the crash is “still under investigation”, it added.
The plane “lost airborne contact over Wuzhou” in the Guangxi region on Monday afternoon, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
Drone footage released by China Fire and Rescue Department shows the scene at the #MU5735 crash site. The Boeing 737 plane, carrying 132 people, crashed on Monday afternoon in south China’s Guangxi. The number of casualties is still unknown. pic.twitter.com/zXPyyzABEB — CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) March 21, 2022
What is known
Fear for the fate of the jet spread on Monday afternoon as local media reported that China Eastern flight MU5735 had not arrived as planned in Guangzhou after taking off from Kunming shortly after 1.00 pm (0500 GMT).
Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed no data for the flight after 2.22 pm.
The tracker showed the plane sharply dropped from an altitude of 29,100 feet to 3,225 feet (8,870 to 982 metres) in three minutes, before flight information ceased, AFP said.
State broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) said the crash “caused a mountain fire” which was later extinguished.
One villager told a local news site that the plane had “completely fallen apart” and he had seen forest areas destroyed by the fire it caused when crashing into the mountainside.
AFP’s report further said that China Eastern changed its website to black and white only on Monday afternoon, and opened an emergency assistance phone number.
Search and rescue operations underway
Meanwhile, according to CCTV, search and rescue operations are underway. As per AFP, hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to the scene in Teng county near the city of Wuzhou, state media reported, as nearby villagers rushed to help the rescue effort.
“Everyone went to the mountains,” Tang Min, who runs a small restaurant a few kilometres from the crash site, told AFP by telephone.
Repercussions and reactions
The disaster prompted an unusually swift public reaction from President Xi Jinping, who said he was “shocked” and ordered an immediate investigation into its cause, AFP said in its report. Xi called for “all efforts” towards the rescue and to find out the “cause of the accident as soon as possible”, according to CCTV.
“We are shocked to learn of the China Eastern MU5735 accident,” he said, calling for “the absolute safety of the sector and people’s lives”.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi too has expressed his grief over the crash. He tweeted, “Deeply shocked and saddened to learn about the crash of the passenger flight MU5735 with 132 on board in China’s Guangxi. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the crash and their family members.”
Deeply shocked and saddened to learn about the crash of the passenger flight MU5735 with 132 on board in China’s Guangxi. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of the crash and their family members.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 21, 2022
A January company report said China Eastern had 289 Boeing 737-series aircraft in its 751-strong fleet. CCTV said it had learned that the company will ground all its 787-800 jets as a precaution after the crash.
Boeing said in a statement that it was “aware of the initial media reports and are working to gather more information”.
It has also been reported that Boeing shares dove following the fatal crash. Shares of Boeing fell 5.6 per cent to $182.06 in mid-morning trading, making it the biggest loser in the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average.
According to a report by PTI, the DGCA has put the Boeing 737 fleets of Indian carriers on “enhanced surveillance” following the incident, its chief Arun Kumar said.
Three Indian carriers — SpiceJet, Vistara and Air India Express — have Boeing 737 aircraft in their fleets.
When asked what steps the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) is taking following Monday’s crash, Kumar told PTI, “Flight safety is serious business and we are closely studying the situation. In the interim, we are focusing on enhanced surveillance of our 737 fleet.”
Boeing 737 Max aircraft is an advanced version of Boeing 737-800 and both belong to the 737 series. The US-based aircraft manufacturer Boeing did not respond to PTI’s request for a statement on the matter, PTI said.
Two Boeing 737 Max aircraft were involved in accidents in the six month period between October 2018 and March 2019, killing a total of 346 people. Following these two accidents, the DGCA had banned Boeing 737 Max planes in India in March 2019.
As per PTI, after Boeing made necessary software rectifications to the satisfaction of the DGCA, the ban on the aircraft’s commercial operations was lifted after 27 months in August last year.
China had enjoyed an enviable air safety record in recent years as the country was crisscrossed by newly built airports and serviced by new airlines established to match breakneck growth over the last few decades.
A Henan Airlines flight crashed in northeastern Heilongjiang province in 2010, killing at least 42 out of 92 people on board, although the final toll was never confirmed. It was the last Chinese commercial passenger flight crash that caused civilian casualties.
The deadliest Chinese commercial flight crash was a China Northwest Airlines crash in 1994, which killed all 160 onboard.
With input from agencies
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