Authorities Sift Through Wreckage of China Eastern Crash

Chinese officials confirm there are zero survivors in China Eastern Airlines accident involving a Boeing 737-800 NG.

The accident involving the Boeing 737-800 killed 123 passengers and nine crew members. [File Photo: Shutterstock]

Chinese officials have confirmed there are no survivors in Monday's crash of the China Eastern Airlines Flight MU5735. The accident involving the Boeing 737-800 killed 123 passengers and nine crew members.

The airline is reaching out to the families of the 132 people on board.

"Our thoughts are with the passengers and crew of China Eastern Airlines Flight MU 5735," Boeing said in a statement. “We are working with our airline customers and are ready to support them. 

“Boeing is in contact with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and our technical experts are prepared to assist with the investigation led by the Civil Aviation Administration of China."

The area where the aircraft went down is the sparsely populated Guangxi region. Residents reported hearing an explosion, then seeing fire on the mountainside. The first people to arrive on site were farmers, who described seeing “heavily fragmented wreckage” but no remains. The crash happened around 2:20 p.m. local time. 

Chinese officials immediately dispatched nearly 1,000 firefighters and 100 members of a local militia to the scene.

China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, quickly issued a statement calling for rescuers to do their utmost and “handle the aftermath in a proper manner.”

Investigators worked through the night by flashlight, and are using drones to search and map the area, which is described as being covered with airplane parts and scraps of clothing.

Some personal effects such as wallets, ID cards, and parts of a cell phone have been found, but there are no reports of human remains being recovered.

Of particular interest to investigators are the aircraft's flight data and cockpit recorders, the so-called "black boxes.” Investigators hope the information in these recorders will help them determine what brought the aircraft down. So far, one of the black boxes has been found.

The investigation is being led by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Boeing, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the FAA, and the engine manufacturer CFM are assisting. This is standard procedure for aircraft accidents that occur overseas involving aircraft designed in the U.S.

The investigation and recovery is being hampered in part by deteriorating weather. A cold front with heavy rain is moving into the area.

The accident is China's worst air disaster in more than a decade.

What Happened

The Boeing 737-800 Next Generation or NG was enroute from Kunming, the capital city of the Yunnan province in southwest China, to Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong near Hong Kong. The flight should have taken about 90 minutes.

According to aircraft tracking data from Flightradar24, approximately one hour into what should have been a 90-minute flight the aircraft entered a steep descent.

The aircraft had been in cruise flight at 21,900 feet when it entered a drive, recovering momentarily at 8,000 feet then descending again. The 737's ADS-B signal indicated a vertical speed of  31,000 fpm down.

Meg Godlewski has been an aviation journalist for more than 24 years and a CFI for more than 20 years. If she is not flying or teaching aviation, she is writing about it. Meg is a founding member of the Pilot Proficiency Center at EAA AirVenture and excels at the application of simulation technology to flatten the learning curve. Follow Meg on Twitter @2Lewski.
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