China Eastern confirmed there had been fatalities after a jet carrying 132 people crashed into a mountain in southern China on Monday, shortly after losing contact with air traffic control and dropping thousands of meters in just three minutes.
The Boeing 737-800 flight from the city of Kunming to the southern hub of Guangzhou “lost airborne contact over Wuzhou” city in the Guangxi region on Monday afternoon, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
The jet was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members.
China Eastern confirmed late Monday that at least some people involved in the crash had been killed, without providing more information or giving details on any survivors.
“The company expresses its deep condolences for the passengers and crew members who died in the plane crash,” the airline said in a statement.
The disaster prompted an unusually swift public reaction from President Xi Jinping, who said he was “shocked” and ordered an immediate investigation into its cause.
Hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to the scene in Teng county near Wuzhou, state media reported, as nearby villagers rushed to help the rescue effort.
“Everyone went to the mountains,” Tang Min, who runs a restaurant a few kilometers from the crash site, told AFP by telephone.
Fears for the fate of the jet spread on Monday afternoon as local media reported that China Eastern flight MU5735 had not arrived as planned in Guangzhou after taking off from Kunming shortly after 1:00 pm (0500 GMT).
Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed no data for the flight after 2:22 pm.
The tracker showed the plane sharply dropped from an altitude of 29,100 feet to 3,225 feet (8,870 to 982 meters) in three minutes, before flight information ceased.
One villager told a local news site that the plane had “completely fallen apart” and he had seen forest areas destroyed by the fire it caused when crashing into the mountainside.
China Eastern changed its website to black and white only on Monday afternoon.
A January company report said China Eastern had 289 Boeing 737-series aircraft in its 751-strong fleet.
State broadcaster CCTV said it had learned that China Eastern will ground all its 787-800 jets as a precaution after the crash.
Boeing said in a statement that it was “aware of the initial media reports and… working to gather more information”.