A Boeing 737-800 passenger airliner has crashed in southern China after descending from cruising altitude at a rate of 31,000 feet per minute. Early reports suggest no sign of survivors among the 123 passengers and nine crew onboard as Chinese emergency services begin a search and rescue operation.
On March 21, China Eastern Airlines Flight MU5735 departed Kunming at 1:11 p.m. local time bound for Guangzhou, due at 3:05 p.m. local time. Both cities are in southern China. The aircraft was a Boeing 737-89P, part of the 737-800 family. According to tracking data at Flightradar24, the aircraft was at a cruising altitude of 29,100 feet when, at about an hour and nine minutes into the flight, the plane began losing altitude quickly.
Less than two minutes later, the very last Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) transmission to come from the aircraft indicated a vertical speed of -31,000 feet per minute. A graph of the 737's descent shows that the steep descent was briefly arrested below 10,000 feet before the crash.
The last recorded altitude for the aircraft was 3,225 feet.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has confirmed that the jet has crashed after losing contact near the city of Wuzhou. Reuters, citing a People’s Daily state news report, says that a local fire department has found no signs of survivors among the 132 onboard. China President Xi Jinping has ordered the country’s emergency services to conduct a search and rescue operation.
Videos posted to social media purporting to be from the crash site show smoke and fire billowing from a mountainside. Others show what appears to be the aircraft crashing into the trees with the nose seemingly completely vertical. State media channels are posting pictures:
Some on social media fear that this is another 737 MAX crash. However, the aircraft involved is actually the MAX’s predecessor. According to Flightradar24, this aircraft was six years old and is a part of the 737's Next Generation family. The Next Generation, as Bloomberg notes, has a good safety record with eight fatal accidents out of more than 7,000 sold as of 2018.
China Eastern and Boeing have changed the colors of their sites in China to black and white in mourning of the crash. A search for survivors is underway. Meanwhile, officials are already investigating a cause. This will be updated as new information is available.