WUZHOU, CHINA (AP) – Mud-stained wallets. Bank cards. Official identity cards. Poignant reminders of 132 lives presumed lost were lined up by rescue workers scouring a remote Chinese mountainside on Tuesday for the wreckage of a China Eastern flight that one day earlier inexplicably fell from the sky and burst into a huge fireball.
No survivors have been found among the 123 passengers and nine crew members. Video clips posted by China’s state media show small pieces of the Boeing 737-800 plane scattered over a wide forested area, some in green fields, others in burnt-out patches with raw earth exposed after fires burned in the trees. Each piece of debris has a number next to it, the larger ones marked off by police tape.
The steep, rough terrain and the huge size of the debris field were complicating the search for the black box, which holds the flight data and cockpit voice recorder, CCTV and the official Xinhua News Agency said. Drones were being used to search the fragments of wreckage that were scattered across both sides of the mountain into which the plane crashed, state media reported.
At an evening news conference, Director of the Office of Aviation Safety at the Civil Aviation Authority of China Zhu Tao said efforts were focussed on finding the black box and that it was too early to speculate on a possible cause of the crash.
“As of now, the rescue has yet to find survivors,” Zhu said. “The public security department has taken control of the site.”
China Eastern flight 5735 crashed outside the city of Wuzhou in the Guangxi region while flying from Kunming, the capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan, to Guangzhou. No foreigners were on board the lost flight, the Foreign Ministry said, citing a preliminary review.
The nation’s first fatal plane crash in more than a decade dominated China’s news and social media.
World leaders including Great Britain’s Boris Johnson, India’s Narendra Modi and Canada’s Justin Trudeau posted condolences on Twitter.
The plane was about an hour into its flight, at an altitude of 29,000 feet, when it entered a steep, fast dive around 2.20pm, according to data from FlightRadar24.com. The plane plunged to 7,400 feet before briefly regaining about 1,200 feet in altitude, then dove again.
The plane stopped transmitting data 96 seconds after starting to dive.