China Eastern Jet’s steep dive suggests little chance of survival

A day after a Boeing 737 crashed in southern China, hundreds of firefighters, police and paramilitary troops scoured the area’s lush hills for survivors. Orthopedic surgeons and burn specialists waited in nearby hospitals. Students lined up for blood drives, according to Chinese reports on Tuesday.

At the crash site, workers found burnt ID cards, handbags, cell phones and other personal belongings, media said. But the likelihood that any of the 132 people on board the plane made it out alive appeared increasingly slim.

The China Eastern Airlines plane, flight MU5735, plunged 29,000 feet through the air toward land Monday in Teng County in the Guangxi region, scattering burning debris across the remote countryside.

A staff member who answered the phone Tuesday at the Wuzhou People’s Hospital near the crash site said the hospital had not yet heard from survivors. And Chinese state media have hinted that people should prepare for the worst.

“Wreckage and debris were found at the scene, but so far no survivors have been found,” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported, citing rescuers.

An aerial photo released by state media showed a deep charred gash in the ground the plane created when it hit a terraced farm field. Another report shared footage of the same area covered in white debris.

“The survivors would be a miracle amid the tragedy,” Wang Ya’nan, editor of China’s Aerospace Knowledge magazine, told the Beijing News. After the plane slammed into the hill at high speed and started fires, he said, “the chances of anyone from the plane surviving are tiny.”

The search effort is likely to increasingly turn to finding the remains of passengers, as well as evidence of what caused the crash. Above all, the hunt will be on for so-called flight data and voice recorder black boxes that could hold second-by-second information about the plane’s abrupt fall from the skies.

“The plane plunged down the mountain,” Li Chenbin, a technician at the crash site, told China News Service. “The whole plane had disintegrated, it was in fragments scattered all around. I haven’t seen anyone who has experienced it. »

China’s record of safe air travel over the past two decades has become a matter of pride for officials and comfort for travellers.

Now the Chinese government, China Eastern Airlines, as well as Boeing will be under pressure to help explain how a plane could accelerate towards earth with such destructive force. Many people on Chinese social media sites noted that China had gone 4,226 days without a major aviation accident, an enviable record after a series of disasters in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Boeing said in an emailed statement that “our technical experts stand ready to participate in the investigation by the Civil Aviation Administration of China.”

By Monday evening, search teams had poured into the area, assembling tents and command posts, installing power supplies and lights and lining up dozens of ambulances in the hope of finding someone alive. Dozens of local volunteers on motorbikes also carried water, food and tents.

But search efforts on Monday evening were hampered by lack of electricity and remoteness. Rain was forecast for Tuesday, which could make search efforts more difficult.

The plane was not a Boeing 737 Max, a different model that resumed flights almost everywhere except China after a global ban prompted by fatal crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019.

Both the United States government and Boeing have offered to send investigators to help analyze the causes of the China Eastern crash. Chinese state media noted the offer, without saying whether China will accept it.

Chinese state media said the airline confirmed there were no foreign passengers on board the plane. This is not unusual, as China has almost completely closed its borders to foreigners since March 2020, to reduce the risk of bringing Covid-19 infections into the country.

Family members of the flight crew had gathered at a China Eastern Airlines office in Yunnan province, according to Chinese state media. The southwestern city of Kunming, where the plane took off, is the capital of Yunnan. A team is set up in this office to help families

On Monday afternoon, the identity of one of the missing, and likely dead, passengers emerged: Fang Fang, the chief financial officer of Dinglong Culture, a mining and resources company in Yunnan province, where the flight took place. start. Her company said she was on the flight, but denied rumors that six other business leaders were also on board.

Chinese Vice Premier Liu He – a senior official who usually directs economic policy – has been tasked with overseeing rescue efforts and investigating the causes of the disaster. On Monday, Supreme Leader Xi Jinping issued an order to spare no effort in the search and rescue operation and in investigating the cause of the accident.

China Eastern Airlines, Boeing and Chinese authorities have already sparked a flurry of online speculation about the cause. Aviation experts said the plane’s unusual dive in midair opened up a range of possible explanations, including foul play or catastrophic equipment failure. But they largely stressed it was too early to do more than speculate as to why the plane sped downhill without any apparent warning signs.

A comment on the Civil Aviation Administration of China’s news website warned against spreading rumors and conspiracy theories, and urged the public to wait for a thorough investigation to result in its findings.

This article denied speculation that China Eastern Airlines has cut its aircraft maintenance budget. The company’s maintenance expenditure increased by 12% between 2019 and 2021, he said. A widely circulated Chinese online publication on Monday claiming the crash followed airline spending cuts was censored on Tuesday morning.

Previous investigations into air disasters in China have sometimes taken a year or two to publish their findings, noted another post on the website of China’s civil aviation authority. Hu Xijin, former editor of the Global Times, a widely read Chinese newspaper controlled by the Communist Party, suggested that the public should not wait so long for answers.

“Absolutely do not wait until the investigation has reached formal conclusions to make them public,” Hu wrote on Weibo, a Chinese social media service. “It would be better to constantly release updates at a faster rate.”

Liu Yi contributed to the research.

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