A Boeing 737-800 passenger airplane operated by China Eastern Airlines crashed into a mountain on Monday afternoon in the Guangxi region of southern China after taking what has been described as a “death plunge.” More than 132 people were on board — all of whom are presumed dead.
China Eastern Airlines Flight MU5735 was flying between Kunming in southwest China and Guangzhou when it sharply plunged in altitude and crashed in a mountainous and heavily wooded area of Guangxi. The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) confirmed the crash in a statement reported by the New York Times.
Surveillance video shared on social media reportedly shows the aircraft taking a sharp nosedive moments before the crash.
Another video taken from bystanders claims to show the fiery crash site in the first minutes after the plane crashed in the mountains.
According to the commercial flight tracking service Flightradar24, Flight MU5735’s Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS–B) indicated the aircraft lost 31,000 feet of altitude in the span of a minute.
“Flight #MU5735 was flying from Kunming to Guangzhou,” Flightradar tweeted. “It took off from Kunming at 05:11 UTC. It was cruising at 29.100 feet until 06:20:59 when it suddenly started to lose altitude very fast.”
According to the aircraft’s altitude logs, the aircraft fell more than 21,000 feet. It appeared to briefly regain altitude around 8,000 feet before continuing to drop dramatically.
Flight MU5735 was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members at the time it went down. Nearby farmers described the aircraft going down with a loud crash. Those local residents described the aircraft breaking into debris. Fire and smoke could also be seen in the area of the crash.
One resident told the state-owned China News Service he rode up near the crash site on a motorbike and saw strips of clothing hanging from trees and a fire burning across more than 10 acres.
Shortly after the crash, Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered Chinese authorities to take all measures to find survivors.
“Instantly initiate the emergency response mechanisms and put everything into organizing search and rescue,” Xi said.
Around 1,000 firefighters and 100 members of a local militia have since been sent to oversee the emergency response efforts. Rains and heavy winds were forecast for Monday evening, which could hinder any rescue efforts.
Xi also ordered Chinese aviation regulators to “step up safety checks in the civil aviation sector” and “ensure that people’s lives are absolutely safe.”
China moved to overhaul its aviation standards in the early 1990s, after a series of deadly airline crashes. China has focused on purchasing newer fleets of airplanes and has established one of the world’s best civil aviation safety records since overhauling its industry.
“Historically it was questionable, but in the new era, it has been very good from a safety point of view,” David Yu, a finance professor specializing in aviation at the Shanghai campus of New York University, told the New York Times.
Monday’s crash may be China’s deadliest in years.
Flight MU5735 was not part of the 737 Max series, which was banned in China after the aircraft was involved in two different crashes six months apart in 2018 and 2019.