China’s state broadcaster says no survivors have been found in the wreckage of a plane that crashed with 132 people on board.
The China Eastern plane which crashed in a forested and mountainous area on Monday was the country’s worst air disaster in a decade.
The Boeing 737-800 crashed near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region while flying from Kunming in the south-western province of Yunnan to the industrial centre of Guangzhou along the east coast. It ignited a fire big enough to be seen on Nasa satellite images.
China’s state broadcaster said on Tuesday morning – more than 18 hours after the crash: “Wreckage of the plane was found at the scene, but up until now, none of those aboard the plane with whom contact was lost have been found.”
Villagers were first to arrive at the forested area where the plane went down on Monday, sparking a blaze big enough to be seen on Nasa satellite images.
Hundreds of rescue workers were swiftly dispatched from Guangxi and neighbouring Guangdong province.
The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members, the CAAC said, correcting earlier reports that 133 people had been on board.
Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an “all-out effort” by the rescue operation, as well as for an investigation into the crash and to ensure complete civil aviation safety.
State media reported all 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet were ordered grounded, while broadcaster CCTV said the airliner had set up nine teams to deal with aircraft disposal, accident investigation, family assistance and other pressing matters.
State media said local police first received calls from villagers alerting the crash at around 2.30pm (0630 GMT).
Guangxi provincial emergency management department said contact with the plane was lost at 2.15pm (0615 GMT).
Chicago-based Boeing said it was aware of the initial reports of the crash and was “working to gather more information”.
China Eastern, which has its headquarters in Shanghai, is one of China’s top three airlines, operating domestic and international routes serving 248 destinations.
Flight number 5735 had been travelling at around 30,000ft when suddenly, just after 0620 GMT, the plane entered a deep dive at its cruising altitude speed of 455 knots (523mph, 842kph), according to data from flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com.
The data suggests the plane crashed within a minute-and-a-half of whatever went wrong.
The plane stopped transmitting data just south-west of the Chinese city of Wuzhou, a city of three million in eastern Guangxi.
The aircraft was delivered to the airline from Boeing in June 2015 and had been flying for more than six years.
China Eastern Airlines uses the Boeing 737-800 as one of the main workhorses of its fleet – of its more than 600 planes, 109 are Boeing 737-800s.
Boeing began delivering the 737-800 to customers in 1997 and delivered the last of the series to China Eastern in 2020.
It made more than 5,200 of the narrow-body aircraft, a popular, single-aisle commuter plane.
The twin-engine, single aisle Boeing 737 is one of the world’s most popular planes for short and medium-haul flights.
China Eastern operates multiple versions of the common aircraft, including the 737-800 and the 737 Max.
The deadliest crash involving a Boeing 737-800 came in January 2020, when Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing all 176 people on board.
The 737 Max version was grounded worldwide after two fatal crashes.
China’s aviation regulator cleared that plane to return to service late last year, making the country the last major market to do so.
China’s last fatal crash of a civilian airliner was in 2010.