A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed in-flight Monday, crashing into a mountainous area in southern China, according to officials and flight tracking data.
Flight MU5735 left Kunming at 1:11 p.m. local time (1:11 a.m. ET) and was expected to arrive in Guangzhou in the southeast of the country in less than two hours, according to information on FlightRadar24.
The aircraft cruised at 29,100 feet and began a steep descent after 2:20 p.m., recovered briefly and resumed the dive before losing contact. It fell over 25,000 feet in about two minutes.
“This kind of tragedy is extremely unusual,” said Richard Aboulafia, director of AeroDynamic Advisory, of the plane’s sudden, sharp drop from its cruising altitude.
The Chinese Civil Aviation Administration said it sent a team to the crash site in the Guangxi region. Researchers will work to recover so-called black boxes that contain cockpit voice recordings and flight data. They will also likely examine the aircraft’s previous flights, maintenance history, weather data, and pilot health.
Chinese state media said the crash caused a mountain fire. Video circulating on social media showed fire and smoke in the mountains and part of an airplane near a dirt road. Chinese officials have not yet confirmed any passenger deaths. If all 123 passengers and nine crew members are confirmed dead, it would be the deadliest plane crash in China since 1994 and the deadliest ever for China Eastern Airlines, according to the Aviation Safety Network database.
The one that crashed in China on Monday first flew in June 2015. It was not a Boeing 737 Max, the plane that was grounded worldwide after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.
China Eastern Airlines confirmed the crash and the number of people on board via a statement on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. The airline said it is sending employees to the crash site and has opened a hotline for family members.
The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was “aware of reports that a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 crashed in China this morning.”
“The agency stands ready to assist with investigative efforts if requested,” the FAA said in a statement.
Boeing said it was “aware of initial media reports” and is gathering more information.
When a crash occurs, usually the country where the crash occurs leads the investigation, but Boeing as a manufacturer and its regulator, the FAA, will likely be involved as well.
“We are deeply saddened by the tragic news of flight MU5735 from China Eastern. We extend our sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of those on board,” said CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and France’s Safran. engines for the aircraft.
China Eastern changed the colors of its website and social media accounts to black and white as a sign of mourning.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was “shocked” to learn of the incident, according to state media CCTV. He instructed Shanghai-based China Eastern to organize search and rescue operations and launch an investigation into the cause of the crash.
The last major passenger plane crash in China was in 2010, when 42 people died on a Henan Airlines Embraer E-190 flight.
Boeing shares fell more than 4% in Monday trading.
A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 flies into Kunming, China’s Yunnan province, on Feb. 13, 2022.
Vcg | Visual China Group | Getty Images
According to aviation data and consultancy Cirium, there are more than 4,200 737-800s in service worldwide and 1,177 in the fleet of Chinese airlines – the largest number of any country.
Boeing tries to regain its reputation after the Max’s two crashes. The Boeing 737 Max grounded worldwide in March 2019 after the second of the two crashes, which happened within five months of each other.
Indonesia’s Lion Air Flight 610 crashed on October 29, 2018 and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 crashed on March 10, 2019. All 346 people on board the two flights were killed in the crashes.
China was the first country to ground the Max after the second crash. The US and most other countries released the planes for return to service more than a year ago. Chinese regulators allowed the Max to fly again in December, with changes, but the planes have not yet returned to service.
Boeing is preparing to resume deliveries of its best-selling Max aircraft to China, a critical milestone as airlines pay the majority of an aircraft’s price on delivery.
Monday’s crash was a 737NG, or next-generation, model before the 737 Max.
Boeing reported its third straight annual loss in January and disclosed $5.5 billion in costs related to manufacturing defects, forcing the company to pause. deliveries of the company’s 787 Dreamliners for most of the past 17 months.