A listed company’s chief financial officer and people working for an accounting firm among those on board
Scraps and broken components from the plane lay scattered on dirt paths and amid fallen branches, according to a video by the Chinese Communist Party’s flagship publication, People’s Daily. China’s state broadcaster streamed footage online Tuesday night that showed People’s Liberation Army soldiers digging up plane debris that had wiped out trees and stands of bamboo before becoming lodged deep in the earth by the force of impact.
A for China’s airline regulator, the Civil Aviation Administration of China, told reporters at the press briefing Tuesday evening that air-traffic controllers tried several times to hail the jet after they saw its altitude drop sharply but got no response.
The plane was at a cruise altitude of 8,900 meters, or about 29,000 feet, at 2:17 pm local time and that a controller noticed a sharp drop at 2:20 pm At 2:23 pm, the radar signal of the aircraft disappeared, he said.
“With the information we currently have, we have no way of coming to a clear view of the reasons,” Mr. Zhu said, confirming earlier state-media reports that no survivors had been found.
If all 132 people on board Monday’s flight died, it would be China’s deadliest air crash in almost three decades.
Mr. Zhu’s account is in line with flight-tracking data that showed the Boeing Co. 737-800 flying from Kunming to the southern metropolis of Guangzhou was at cruising altitude on Monday before nosediving at 2:20 pm local time, a trajectory some air safety experts said was extremely unusual. The plane was transporting nine crew members and 123 passengers.
The plane wreckage was strewn across a forested mountainous region in Guangxi, which makes the search for the aircraft’s black box more difficult, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing rescuers. Investigators typically analyze the plane’s flight-data recorder and cockpit voice recorder to help gain insight into a flight’s final moments, though crash investigations often take months or years.
One question for investigators is why the jet plummeted so quickly from the sky, reaching vertical speeds of 31,000 feet a minute, or more than 350 miles an hour. It initially fell to an altitude of 7,425 feet and briefly managed to gain about 1,200 feet in altitude before again diving toward the mountain, data from Flightradar24 shows. The aircraft stopped transmitting at 3,225 feet.
The plane “met airworthiness requirements before takeoff, its technical condition was stable, and the nine aircrew members on the flight were in good health conditions and their experience in flying meets official requirements,” Sun Shiying, chairman of China Eastern’s subsidiary branch based in southwestern China’s Yunnan province, said at the press briefing Tuesday night.
China’s Vice Premier Liu He and an official in Beijing’s cabinet led a team to Wuzhou, a city in Guangxi near the crash site, on Monday night to oversee the rescue efforts and investigation, Xinhua reported.
Relatives of some of the passengers went to Guangzhou’s Baiyun airport while they anxiously awaited news on Monday, according to state media. A group of relatives had also hastened to join dozens of medics and experts in Wuzhou, CCTV reported.
A man surnamed Meng in a village about a half-mile from the crash said he heard what sounded like an explosion and saw the plane plunging straight to the ground within 10 seconds, state-run media outlet the Paper reported. Fire broke out in the area, Mr. Meng said, and thick smoke billowed from the forest after the crash, footage published by the outlet showed.
Details about passengers and the aircrew began to emerge on Tuesday. Dinglong Culture Co.
a Shenzhen-listed company based in Guangzhou whose businesses include titanium-ore mining and entertainment, said that its chief financial officer, a woman named Fang Fang, was on the flight.
Zhongxinghua Certified Public Accountants LLP, a Beijing-based accounting firm with offices across the country, said two people working for the firm in its Guangdong branch boarded the plane for work and expressed condolences to the victims’ families and colleagues.
A man named Ni Gongtao in his late 20s had been on that plane, a representative of a neighborhood committee—local management units for residents—in Yancheng City, Jiangsu Province, said, citing Mr. Ni’s family. Mr. Ni’s parents were on their way to Guangzhou, the representative from the Yuhua neighborhood said.
Mr. Ni, who works for China Eastern, and his parents are registered as residents of the neighborhood in the central-eastern province, said another representative, surnamed Hu.
China Eastern Airlines didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Authorities have set up a command center to coordinate emergency responses and a media center at a primary school near the crash.
Preliminary findings showed no foreign nationals were on the plane, said Wang Wenbin, China’s Foreign Ministry.
Media footage of the rescue operations have garnered millions of views on Chinese social media, drawing streams of comments that wished for a miracle and cheered on rescuers. Three of the top five trending topics on China’s Twitter -like Weibo were about the crash and its aftermath, with particular interest on the hunt for the flight recorder.
“Don’t give up on the last ray of hope, and each rescuer also needs to protect themselves,” a Weibo user wrote in a comment on Tuesday that had been liked more than 14,000 times. Others warned that a proliferation of rumors and speculation risked causing more harm to the victims’ families.
The US Embassy in Beijing’s current top diplomat said he was saddened by the news of the crash and expressed condolences to those affected. “We are ready to assist in investigation efforts and wish to share our admiration and respect for the emergency responders at the crash site,” said David Meale, Chargé d’Affaires of the embassy.
—Qianwei Zhang and Rachel Liang contributed to this article.
Write to Elaine Yu at [email protected]
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