132 people aboard the Boeing 737 during a sudden plunge

In this cellphone photo released by Xinhua News Agency, a piece of the wreckage of China Eastern Flight MU5735 is seen after it crashed into the mountain in Tengxian County, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, south of China), Monday, March 21, 2022.

Xinhua via AP

A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board dove mid-flight and crashed in a mountainous region in southern China on Monday, 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 from FlightRadar24.

The aircraft was flying at 29,100 feet and began a steep descent after 2:20 p.m., briefly recovering over 1,000 feet and then resuming the dive before losing contact. He fell over 25,000 feet in about two minutes.

“This kind of tragedy is extremely unusual,” said Richard Aboulafia, managing director of AeroDynamic Advisory, of the plane’s sudden and sharp drop from its cruising altitude.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China said it had sent a team to the Guangxi region. Debris was found but no passengers, state media reported Tuesday morning local time.

Investigators will work to recover the so-called black boxes that contain cockpit voice recordings and flight data. They are also likely to review the aircraft’s previous flights, maintenance history, weather data and pilot health.

Chinese state media said the accident caused a fire in the mountains. Video circulating on social media showed fire and smoke in the mountains and a plane section near a dirt road. Chinese authorities have not yet confirmed the deaths of any passengers.

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 on record for China Eastern Airlines, according to the Aviation Safety Database. Network.

The 737NG, or Next Generation is the model that Boeing released before the Max. It has one of the best safety records of any plane with 11 fatal accidents out of more than 7,000 NG planes that have been delivered to customers since 1997, according to aeronautical data and consulting firm Cirium.

The 737-800 that crashed in China on Monday made its first flight in June 2015. It was not a Boeing 737 Max, the plane that was grounded around the world after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

China Eastern Airlines confirmed the accident and the number of people on board via a statement on Weibo, which is China’s version of Twitter. The airline said it was sending workers to the crash site and opened a helpline for family members.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was aware of the crash and would assist in the investigation “if asked”.

As a general rule, when an accident occurs, the country where the accident occurs leads the investigation. Because Flight 5735 was an American-made aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board appointed an investigator for the crash.

The NTSB did not say whether investigators would travel to China.

Boeing as a manufacturer and its regulator, the FAA, will likely participate in the investigation.

“We have been in close communication with our customers and regulatory authorities since the accident, and have offered the full support of our technical experts to the investigation being conducted by the Civil Aviation Administration of China,” the official wrote. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun to employees. “I will keep you updated with information on the accident as investigation protocols permit. In the meantime, please know that we will do everything we can to support our client and the accident investigation during this difficult time. , guided by our commitment to safety, transparency, and integrity at every step.”

China Eastern, China’s second largest carrier by capacity according to OAG, 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 China Eastern, based in Shanghai, to organize search and rescue efforts and to initiate an investigation into the cause of the accident.

The last commercial passenger airline fatality in China was in 2010, when 42 people died on a Henan Airlines Embraer E-190 flight, according to the ASN database.

A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 flies on February 13, 2022 in Kunming, China’s Yunnan province.

CGV | Visual Group China | Getty Images

There are more than 4,200 737-800s in service worldwide and 1,177 in Chinese airline fleets – the most of any country – according to Cirium.

Boeing is trying to restore its image after the two crashes of the Max. The Boeing 737 Max was grounded worldwide in March 2019 after the second of two crashes, which occurred five months apart.

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 United States and most other countries cleared the planes for return to service more than a year ago. Chinese regulators cleared the Max to resume flying in December, with modifications, but the planes are yet to return to service.

Boeing shares were down about 3.5% in Monday trading. Spirit AeroSystems, which manufactures 737 airframes, also lost 3.5%.

Boeing is preparing to resume deliveries of its best-selling Max plane to China, a crucial step since airlines pay most of the price of a plane upon delivery.

“If Boeing cannot deliver 737s to China, it will be that much more difficult to reduce the company’s 737 inventory, and it would likely make it more difficult to increase production from the [31 planes per month] planned for this year,” JP Morgan Boeing analyst Seth Seifman wrote in a note Monday.

Boeing reported its third straight annual loss in January, revealing $5.5 billion in costs related to manufacturing defects, which forced the company to pause. deliveries of the company’s 787 Dreamliners for most of the past 17 months.