A Chinese airline has grounded its fleet of Boeing 737-800 aircraft after one entered a near-vertical dive and plummeted almost 30,000ft in two minutes, smashing into a remote mountainside and killing all 132 passengers and crew.
China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming, capital of Yunnan province, to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong, bordering Hong Kong, when it crashed into the ground at 350mph.
Local media published a short dashcam video clip apparently showing the jet diving straight into to the ground.
Thick smoke could be seen rising from the area after the incident sparked a fire on the mountainside, which burned down bamboo and trees.
A fire department official told The People’s Daily there was no sign of life among the scattered debris.
Satellite data from NASA showed a massive fire in the area where the plane went down at the time of the crash.
President Xi Jinping called for investigators to determine the cause of the crash as soon as possible, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
Flight MU5735 departed Kunming at 1.11pm (5.11am GMT), according to data from flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.
It had been due to land in Guangzhou, on the east coast, at 3.05pm (07.05am GMT) but tracking data showed it rapidly lost speed before entering a sharp descent at 2.22pm (6.22am GMT). The plane stopped transmitting data just southwest of Wuzhou.
The plane had been cruising at an altitude of 29,100 feet at 6.20am GMT, according to FlightRadar24 data. Just over two minutes and 15 seconds later, the next available data showed it had descended to 9,075 feet. In another 20 seconds, its last tracked altitude was 3,225 feet.
Shanghai-based China Eastern is one of China’s top three airlines, operating scores of domestic and international routes serving 248 destinations.
The aircraft was delivered to China Eastern from Boeing in June 2015 and had been flying for over six years. It is not the 737-MAX variant involved in two previous deadly crashes.
China Eastern operates multiple versions of the 737, which is one of the world’s most popular planes for short and medium-haul flights.
State media reported all 737-800s in its fleet were ordered to be grounded – an unusual move unless there is clear evidence of a problem.
Aviation data provider OAG said earlier this month that state-owned China Eastern Airlines was the world’s sixth-largest by scheduled weekly seat capacity and the biggest in China. It has had a relatively strong performance in the domestic market during the coronavirus pandemic despite tight curbs on international flights, OAG said.
The safety record of China’s airline industry has been among the best in the world over the past decade.
According to Aviation Safety Network, China’s last fatal jet accident was in 2010, when 44 of 96 people on board were killed when an Embraer E-190 regional jet flown by Henan Airlines crashed on approach to Yichun airport in low visibility.
Additional reporting by agencies