132 people on board a Boeing 737 during a sudden landing

In this mobile phone photo released by Xinhua, a piece of the wreckage of China Eastern Flight MU 5735 is seen after it crashed into a mountain in Tengxian County, south China’s Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region on Monday, March 21, 2022.

Xinhua via AP

A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 with 132 people on board crashed mid-flight and crashed in a mountainous region of southern China on Monday, according to officials and flight tracking data.

Flight MU5735 left Kunming at 1:11 p.m. local time (1:11 a.m. ET) and was scheduled to arrive in Guangzhou in the southeast in less than two hours, according to information on FlightRadar24.

The plane was flying at 29,100 feet and began a steep descent after 2:20 p.m., briefly recovering more than 1,000 feet and then resuming diving before losing contact. He fell over 25,000 feet in about two minutes.

“This kind of tragedy is very unusual,” Richard Aboulafia, managing director at consultancy AeroDynamic, said of the plane’s sudden, sharp landing from cruising altitude.

China’s Civil Aviation Administration said it would send a team to the crash site in Guangxi. Investigators will work to recover the so-called black boxes containing cockpit audio recordings and flight data. They will also likely check the aircraft’s previous flights, maintenance history, weather data, and the pilot’s health.

Chinese state media said the accident caused a fire in the mountains. A video circulated on social media showed fire and smoke in the mountains and a section of an aircraft near a dirt road. Chinese officials have yet to confirm any passenger deaths.

If all 123 passengers and nine crew members are confirmed dead, it would be the worst Chinese plane crash since 1994 and the deadliest ever for China Eastern Airlines, according to the Aviation Safety Network database.

The 737NG or Next Generation is the Boeing model that was released before the Max. It has one of the best safety records of any aircraft with 11 fatal accidents out of more than 7,000 NG aircraft delivered to customers since 1997, according to aviation data and consultancy firm Cirium.

The 737-800 that crashed in China on Monday flew for the first time in June 2015. The Boeing 737 MAX, which has been grounded worldwide after two fatal crashes in 2018 and 2019.

China Eastern Airlines confirmed the crash and the number of people on board via a statement on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. The airline said it would send workers to the site of the accident and opened a hotline for family members.

The US Federal Aviation Administration said it was aware of the incident and would assist in the investigation “if asked”.

Usually when an accident occurs, the country in which the accident occurred leads the investigation. Since Flight 5735 was an American-made aircraft, the National Transportation Safety Board appointed an investigator to the accident.

The NTSB did not say whether the investigators would travel to China.

Boeing as its manufacturer and regulator, the FAA, is likely to assist with the investigation.

“We have been in close contact with our customers and regulatory authorities since the accident, and have provided the full support of our technical experts to the investigation led by the Civil Aviation Administration of China,” Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun wrote to employees. “I will keep you informed of information regarding the incident as investigation protocols allow. In the meantime, trust that we will do everything in our power to support our customers and investigate the incident during this difficult time, guided by our commitment to safety, transparency and integrity at every step.”

China Eastern, China’s second largest airline by capacity according to OAG, has changed the colors of its website and social media accounts to white and black in a sign of mourning.

Chinese President Xi Jinping said he was “shocked” when he learned of the incident, according to state media CCTV. He instructed Shanghai-based China Eastern Corporation to organize search and rescue efforts and launch an investigation into the cause of the crash.

The last fatal commercial airliner crash in China was in 2010, when 42 people died aboard Henan Airlines Embraer Flight E-190, according to the ASN database.

A Boeing 737-800 of China Eastern Airlines flies on February 13, 2022 in Kunming, Yunnan Province, China.

Vcg | China Optical Group | Getty Images

There are more than 4,200 737-800s in service worldwide and 1,177 in China Airlines fleets — more than any other country — according to Cerium.

Boeing is trying to restore its reputation after the crash of the Max plane. The Boeing 737 Max grounded worldwide in March 2019 after a second crash, which occurred within five months of each other.

Indonesia’s Lion Air Flight 610 crashed on October 29, 2018, and Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302 on March 10, 2019. All 346 people on board the two flights were killed in the accident.

China was the first country to stop the Max after the second crash. The United States and most other countries cleared the planes to return to service more than a year ago. Chinese regulators allowed Max to resume flying in December, with changes, but the planes have not yet returned to service.

Boeing shares fell 3.5 percent in trading on Monday. Similarly, Spirit AeroSystems, which makes 737 hulls, sold for 3.5%.

Boeing is preparing to resume deliveries of its best-selling Max jet to China, a crucial event since airlines pay the bulk of the plane’s price on delivery.

“If Boeing cannot deliver 737s to China, it will be very difficult to reduce the company’s 737 inventory, and that will likely make it difficult to increase production from [31 planes per month] Seth Seifman, an analyst at JPMorgan Boeing, wrote in a note on Monday.

Boeing reported its third consecutive annual loss in January, revealing $5.5 billion in costs associated with manufacturing defects, forcing the company to pause. The company’s 787 Dreamliners have been delivered for most of the past 17 months.