No survivors found in crash of Chinese plane carrying 132 people

ITV News Asia Correspondent Debi Edwards reports on rescuers' efforts to scour the crash site

No survivors have been found in the wreckage of a plane that crashed with 132 people on board, China's state broadcaster has said.

The China Eastern plane, which crashed in a forested and mountainous area on Monday, was the country’s worst air disaster in a decade, and left a deep pit in the mountainside about the size of a football field, official Xinhua News Agency Xinhua said.

The Boeing-737 was travelling from Kunming to the industrial centre of Guangzhou when it crashed in Guangxi province with 123 passengers and nine crew aboard.

The crash ignited a fire big enough to be seen on Nasa satellite images.

China’s state broadcaster said on Tuesday – 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".

As rescuers scoured the crash sight on Tuesday, personal effects such as mud-stained wallets, bank cards and official identity cards were discovered among the wreckage.

A piece of wreckage from China Eastern’s Flight MU5735 is seen after it crashed on the mountain in Tengxian County in southern China. Credit: Xinhua/AP

State media said local police first received calls from villagers alerting them to the crash at around 2.30pm local time.

Contact with the plane had been lost at 2.15pm, Guangxi provincial emergency management department said.

The plane had been travelling at around 30,000ft when suddenly it entered a deep dive at its cruising altitude speed of 455 knots (more than 500mph), according to data from flight-tracking website

The data suggests the plane crashed within a minute-and-a-half of whatever went wrong.

It stopped transmitting data just south-west of the Chinese city of Wuzhou, a city of three million in eastern Guangxi.

Chen Weihao, who saw the falling plane while working on a farm, told Xinhua it hit a gap in the mountain where nobody lived.

“The plane looked to be in one piece when it nosedived. Within seconds, it crashed”.

The steep, rough terrain and the huge size of the debris field were complicating the search for the black boxes, which hold the flight data and cockpit voice recorders, CCTV and Xinhua said.

Drones were being used to search the fragments of wreckage that were scattered across both sides of the mountain into which the plane crashed, state media reported.

Emergency personnel prepare to travel to the site of the plane crash. Credit: CCTV/AP

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.

China Eastern, which has its headquarters in Shanghai, is one of China’s top three airlines, operating domestic and international routes serving 248 destinations.

All 737-800s in the airline's fleet were ordered grounded, state media reported, while broadcaster CCTV said the airliner had set up nine teams to deal with aircraft disposal, accident investigation, family assistance and other pressing matters.

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

Chicago-based Boeing said it was aware of the initial reports of the crash and was “working to gather more information”.

Boeing Chief Executive Dave Calhoun said that the company was deeply saddened by the news and had offered the full support of its technical experts to assist in the investigation.

“The thoughts of all of us at Boeing are with the passengers and crew well as their families and loved ones,” he wrote in a message to Boeing employees.

China's Foreign Ministry has said no foreigners were on board the lost flight.

All 737-800s in China Eastern’s fleet have been grounded, according to state media. Credit: CCTV/AP

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.

People sit in a temporarily cordoned off area for relatives of the victims aboard flight MU5735, in Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport Credit: Chinatopix/AP

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.