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No survivors found from crash of China Eastern Airlines Flight MU-5735

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No survivors found from crash of China Eastern Airlines Flight MU-5735
Debris from China Eastern Airlines Flight MU-5735, which crashed into a mountainside in southern China on Monday, is seen in Tengxian County in Guangxi province on Monday. Photo by EPA-EFE

March 22 (UPI) -- Rescue teams have not located any survivors from China Eastern Airlines Flight MU-5735, which crashed on a mountainside in southern China with 132 people on board, state-run media reported on Tuesday.

The plane, a Boeing 737-800, crashed on Monday with 123 passengers and nine crew as it was en route from Kunming to the port city of Guangzhou.

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Rescue crews were immediately sent to the crash site to determine if anyone had survived the crash.

"After an overnight search and rescue, fragments of the wreckage of the crashed plane were found at the scene, but the missing persons on board have not yet been found," state broadcaster CCTV reported Tuesday.

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"There is still no specific information on the cause of the accident, the list of people and the casualties."

Flight MU-5735 departed Kunming at 1:16 p.m. for a scheduled two-hour flight. About an hour later, the jet suddenly "began a rapid descent," tracking service Flightradar24 said.

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The plane plunged from its cruising altitude of 29,100 feet down to 7,425 feet in about a minute before it briefly recovered, according to flight data. It then dived again and crashed into a heavily forested mountainside near the city of Wuzhou, setting off a fire.

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A local villager told the state-run Xinhua news agency that the plane appeared to be in one piece when it was falling. Another said the impact left a large pit at the crash site and leveled trees across a wide radius.

Local and regional fire brigades sent hundreds of firefighters to the rescue site while teams from the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the Ministry of Emergency Management arrived overnight to guide on-site operations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered "swift action to be taken to identify the cause of the crash and to strengthen the safety overhaul of the civil aviation sector to ensure the absolute safety of the sector and people's lives," Xinhua reported.

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China Eastern Airlines, the country's second-largest carrier, also sent an emergency team to the crash site and grounded its 737-800 fleet pending an investigation.

The crash is the latest involving a Boeing 737 in recent years. Two Boeing 737 Max aircraft crashed in Indonesia and Ethiopia in 2018 and 2019 and forced Boeing to ground the fleet worldwide. The planemaker ultimately found a problem with the 737 Max's automated flight software.

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Monday's crash in China, however, involved a Boeing 737-800 model, not a Max. The 737-800, also known as the 737 NG, has a sterling safety record and is considered one of the safest planes in commercial aviation.

Before Monday, the last major crash of a 737-800 plane occurred in August 2020 when a flight slid off the runway in India and killed almost two dozen people. Investigators later blamed the crash on the pilot.

Boeing said Monday that it's been in contact with the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and was prepared to assist with the Chinese-led investigation. The NTSB announced that it had appointed a senior air safety investigator as a U.S.-accredited representative to the investigation.

China's aviation safety record has been among the world's best over the last decade. The country's last major crash occurred in 2010 when an Embraer jet operated by Henan Airlines missed a runway while attempting to land in northern China and killed 44 of the 96 passengers aboard.

China Eastern's last deadly accident occurred in 2004 when a Bombardier jet crashed into a lake shortly after takeoff in inner Mongolia. Fifty-five people died.

Boeing shares fell sharply in trading Monday after the crash, while shares of China Eastern and other airlines also tumbled as mainland Chinese markets opened on Tuesday.

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