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China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 carrying 132 people crashes in a forested hillside

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A Chinese passenger plane with 132 people on board has crashed in a forested hillside in southern China.

The China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 was flying from Kunming to Guangzhou when it plunged to earth in Guangxi province and caught fire.

The number of casualties and reason for the crash are not yet known. Rescuers have seen no signs of survivors.

Chinese airlines generally have a good safety record – the last major accident took place 12 years ago.

The crash has caused shock in China, where President Xi Jinping has ordered an immediate investigation to determine the cause. China Eastern Airlines has grounded all its 737-800s.

Flight tracking data suggested the plane lost height rapidly from its cruising altitude before plummeting to the ground.

More than 600 emergency responders are said to be at the crash site. Firefighters reached the scene first and managed to extinguish a blaze in the hills caused by the crash.

Footage taken by local villagers and shared on Chinese social media – and by state broadcasters – showed fire and smoke from the crash, with plane debris on the ground.

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Air safety and aviation standards in China have improved vastly in recent decades, following a series of accidents in the 1990s, and crashes such as this are now very rare.

The country’s last major plane accident was in August 2010, when a flight from Harbin crashed in north-east Yichun during foggy weather, killing 42 people.

China Eastern has set up a hotline for people seeking information about those on board. It expressed “its deep condolences for the passengers and crew members who died”.

Earlier, it greyed out its logo on its Weibo account and also changed its website to black and white in an apparent sign of mourning.

Staff at Guangzhou airport are directing worried relatives to a separate zone set up to receive them.

One woman waiting for news there told local media she had booked a seat on the flight, but ended up switching to an earlier plane.

“I feel very sad,” she said. Her sister and four friends were on the crashed plane, AFP news agency reports.

State-owned China Eastern is one of China’s big three airlines, along with China Southern and Air China.

Flight MU5735 left Kunming at 13:11 local time (05:11 GMT) and was scheduled to arrive in Guangzhou at 15:05.

File photo from 2015 of the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 which crashedAIRTEAMIMAGES.COM Image caption,  A file photo from 2015 of the China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 which crashed

Flight tracking sites report the plane was in the air for just over an hour and was nearing its destination when it went down in Wuzhou, a verdant, hilly area prone to mixed weather at this time of year as China enters its annual flood season.

The weather was cloudy, but visibility was reported to have been good at the time of the crash.

The plane dropped thousands of metres in three minutes, flight tracker data showed.

According to FlightRadar24 data, the plane was cruising at 29,100ft, but two minutes and 15 seconds later it was recorded at 9,075ft. The last sourced information on the flight showed it ended at 14:22 local time, at an altitude of 3,225ft.

“Usually the plane is on autopilot during cruise stage. So it is very hard to fathom what happened,” Li Xiaojin, a Chinese aviation expert, told Reuters news agency.

Another expert, Wang Ya’nan, chief editor of Beijing-based Aerospace Knowledge, told China’s Global Times newspaper: “It is very likely that the aircraft lost power at cruising altitude, resulting in the pilot losing control of the aircraft.

“This is a very serious technical failure in which the plane inevitably enters a high-speed descent.”

The Boeing 737-800 plane was nearly seven years old, according to tracker websites. It is the predecessor model to the Boeing 737 Max line, which were the planes involved in deadly crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019.

China banned that model after those crashes.

Boeing issued a statement on the crash of MU5735, saying: “We are aware of the initial media reports and are working to gather more information.”

China’s Civil Aviation Administration said it had dispatched its investigators to the scene.

map of flight path

About Charles Igbinidu

Charles Igbinidu is a Public Relations practitioner in Lagos, Nigeria

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