Chinese plane crashes with 132 on board in the south of the country – Press Enterprise

By KEN MORITSUGU

BEIJING (AP) – A China Eastern Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed into a remote mountainous area in southern China Monday, officials said, sparking a wildfire visible from space in the country’s worst air disaster. in nearly a decade.

More than seven hours after the plane lost communication, there was still no word on survivors.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement that the crash occurred near the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region. The flight was en route from Kunming in southwestern Yunnan province to the industrial center of Guangzhou along the east coast, it added.

China Eastern Flight 5735 had traveled 455 knots (523 mph) at about 30,000 feet when it made a steep dive around 2:20 p.m. local time, according to data from flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com. The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds later.

Local villagers were the first to arrive at the wooded area where the plane crashed, setting off a fire large enough to see on NASA satellite images. Hundreds of rescue workers were quickly dispatched from Guangxi and neighboring Guangdong province.

The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members, the CAAC said, correcting previous reports that 133 people were on board.

Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an “all-out effort” of the rescue operation, as well as an investigation into the crash and ensuring full civil aviation safety.

State media reported that all 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet were grounded. Aviation experts said it is unusual to ground an entire fleet of planes unless there is evidence of a problem with the model.

Boeing 737-800s have been flying since 1998 and Boeing has sold more than 5,100 of them. According to data from the Aviation Safety Network, a branch of the Flight Safety Foundation, they have been involved in 22 accidents that increased the total number of aircraft and killed 612 people.

“There are thousands of them from all over the world. It certainly has an excellent track record of security,” said the foundation’s chairman, Hassan Shahidi, of the 737-800.

China’s air safety record has improved since the 1990s, as air traffic has grown dramatically with the emergence of a burgeoning middle class. Before Monday, the last fatal crash of a Chinese passenger plane occurred in August 2010, when a Henan Airlines Embraer ERJ 190-100 hit the ground just off the runway in the northeastern city of Yichun and caught fire. All 44 people on board were killed. Investigators blamed the pilot’s error.

Aviation experts said they expect China to ask the US National Transportation Safety Board for help, although a Safety Board spokesman said on Monday it has not yet done so. The US Federal Aviation Administration, which certified the 737-800 in the 1990s, said it would be willing to assist with the investigation if requested.

Crash investigations are usually led by officials in the country where the crash occurred, but they usually include the aircraft manufacturer and the investigator or supervisor in the manufacturer’s home country.

Shahidi said he expects investigators to search the aircraft’s and its engines’ maintenance history, pilots’ training and records, air traffic control discussions and other topics.

The Chicago-based Boeing Co. said it was aware of the reports of the crash and was trying to gather more information. Shares of Boeing fell more than 4% in afternoon trading in New York.

China Eastern, headquartered in Shanghai, is one of the country’s three largest airlines, operating dozens of domestic and international routes to 248 destinations.

The aircraft was delivered to the aircraft by Boeing in June 2015 and has been flying for more than six years. China Eastern Airlines uses the Boeing 737-800 as the workhorse of its fleet – the airline has more than 600 aircraft and 109 are Boeing 737-800s.

Chinese broadcaster CCTV said China Eastern has set up nine teams to deal with aircraft removals, accident investigations, family assistance and other urgent matters.

The CAAC and China Eastern both said they had sent officials to the crash site in accordance with emergency measures.

China Eastern Online has made its website a black and white homepage after the crash.

The accident quickly became a leading topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform, with 1.34 billion views and 690,000 discussions. Many messages offered condolences to the families of the victims, while others questioned the safety of the planes.

The twin-engine, single-aisle Boeing 737 in various configurations has been flying for more than 50 years and is one of the world’s most popular short- and medium-haul aircraft.

The 737 Max, a later version, was grounded worldwide for nearly two years after two crashes in 2018 and 2019 that killed 346 people. China’s aviation regulator authorized the Max to return to service late last year, making the country the last major market to do so.

The deadliest crash involving a Boeing 737-800 occurred in January 2020, when Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps accidentally shot down a Ukraine International Airlines flight, killing all 176 people on board.

Associated Press researcher Yu Bing and news assistant Caroline Chen in Beijing, researcher Si Chen in Shanghai, writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, video producer Penny Wang and writer Adam Schreck in Bangkok and aviation writer David Koenig in Dallas also contributed.

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