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Boeing 737-800 crashes into terrain in China with 132 onboard

written by Hannah Dowling | March 22, 2022

A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800NG has crashed in the mountains in southern China carrying 132 people on board, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has confirmed.

The aircraft, registration B-1791, was performing flight MU5735 from Kunming in Yunnan province to Guangzhou in Guangdong Province on Monday with 123 passengers and nine crew onboard, when its altitude started to quickly drop.

Data from Flightradar24 suggests the six-year-old aircraft lost over 20,000 feet in altitude within under two minutes, falling from 29,000 feet to under 9,000. The aircraft began to climb again briefly once it hit 7,400 feet, however within seconds again continued to descend.

The twin-engine jet impacted the ground about 119 nautical miles west of its destination, in the mountainous region of Wuzhou, about one hour and 37 minutes after take-off.

Search and rescue operations are currently underway, however, local media sources have said that there are currently no signs of survivors. It is not yet known what caused the crash, and investigations are continuing.

The CAAC has said it has activated all relevant emergency protocols and sent a working group to the scene, while China Eastern Airlines has also said it sent officials to the crash site in line with emergency procedures.

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Unconfirmed eyewitness accounts from near the crash site suggest that the plane fell almost vertically out of the sky before the crash, and Chinese state broadcaster CCTV published a photo that is said to be of MU5735’s steep descent.

The crashed aircraft caused a fire to erupt in Wuzhou’s mountainous regions, which local media stated was controlled within a few hours of the incident.

Loved ones of the passengers onboard MU5735 gathered late on Monday at the flight’s destination at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport.

Reports suggest that China Eastern will arrange for relatives to travel to the crash site as early as Tuesday, should they wish to.

Local media has reported that the CAAC has also moved to ground China’s entire fleet of Boeing 738-800 aircraft while investigations into the cause of the crash continue.

A Boeing spokesperson said the company is aware of “initial media reports” of a crash and are “working to gather more information”.

Boeing and the US Federal Aviation Administration are also expected to be involved in the crash investigation.

More to come.

Comments (6)

  • Pete Gardiner

    says:

    A descent rate of more than 10,000fpm would exceed aircraft structural limitations. The aircraft either broke up in flight or did so on descent.

  • chris

    says:

    The CCP is going to need the help of the West to solve this…starting with a forensic examination of the FDR.

    • Mentos

      says:

      Boeing and other equipment manufacturers may be involved in the investigation. But let’s not have West superiority or any politicising involved in this kind of discussion.

  • Mac Carter

    says:

    Pickle Fork Failure ?

  • Doug Bright

    says:

    Tragic. I’ve made that journey between Kunming and Guangzhou a few times, so it seems to strike home even harder than usual.

    I always find myself wondering how any modern commercial aircraft can find itself totally beyond all possible control of even the most basic flight parameters that would enable it to sustain flight to some degree, rather than a near-vertical or even inverted plunge to earth with almost no notice.

    The end result might be the same, but as a long shot, it might at least enable a controlled off-runway landing or water-ditching, even if the survivability of such is uncommon, considering the typical landing speeds under such circumstance (e.g. US Airways Flight 1549, Airbus A320, Hudson River 100% survival; Ethiopian Airlines Flight 961 Comoros Islands, 28% survival).

    Exceptions would appear to be (in no particular order):

    – Un-commanded and irrecoverable control inputs beyond the physical strength of the crew and/or their ability to diagnose the issue in time ( e.g. recent B737MAX incidents).

    – Deliberate or accidental misuse of controls (e.g. SilkAir Flight 185, B737-300, Musi River, Sumatra, 1997).

    – Incapacitation of both crew, including hypoxia, subsequent loss of control and/or fuel exhaustion (e.g. Helios Airways Flight 522, 2005, loss of cabin pressurization incapacitated the crew, leaving the aircraft flying on autopilot until it ran out of fuel, crashing near Grammatiko, Greece).

    – Fuel starvation or exhaustion and resultant loss of control, especially in IMC (many examples).

    – Sudden in-flight structural failure and/or development of asymmetry of flight control surfaces (e.g. JAL, B747 Japan Air Lines Flight 123 , 1985, B747SR, sudden decompression and failure of aft bulkhead due to faulty repair after a tail-strike incident in 1978 as JAL Flight 115).

    – Instrument malfunction with inappropriate crew analysis and response (China Airlines Flight 006, 1985, B747SP upset accident following No. 4 engine failure, aircraft roll-over and 30,000′ plunge, experiencing high speeds and +5g forces and numerous flight surface distortions and breakages before recovery and successful landing at San Francisco; Air France A330 Flight 447, mid-Atlantic Ocean, apparently contradictory airspeed indications from one or more of the air data computers, one of the early elements in the chain of events that led to the accident, though these inconsistencies did not fully explain why the airplane crashed.)

    There are a few more likely causes I could raise but this has got longer than I intended.

    The human element will almost always be a factor but every attempt to engineer out that element always seems to result in introducing additional problems with automation (e.g. B737MAX (again) and possibly Air France, incident cited above, also). Hopefully the human element will always be retained, as no amount of so-called “smart computing” and “robotics” I have ever seen will successfully replace the flexibility and innovation of the Mk 1 human brain, regardless of its many flaws (e.g Hudson River, described above); a computer couldn’t have anticipated nor handled that.

    Food for thought…

  • Marum

    says:

    For the 737 – 800 VNE = M 0.84. approx velocity.
    Looking at the graph of the dive, if the graph is correct, then the aircrafts velocity was at least 1200 mph perhaps more. Therefore they would have reached M 1.50 at least.

    This would possibly damage the control surface sufficiently to possibly cause the second dive and subsequent crash. I am surprised that the (Black Boxes) survived what must have been a near 1,000G crash. (The Lauda Air aircraft which crashed into s bay in the USA recorded over 500G+)

    My sympathies to all, and their families….Marum.

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