Rescuers in southern China continued to search an isolated mountainside for the black boxes of the China Eastern Airlines plane which plunged from the sky on Monday with 132 people on board, as authorities warned that the severe damage caused to the aircraft would make it difficult to establish the cause. of the accident.
Flight MU5735 was en route from Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, to the southern city of Guangzhou when it suddenly dropped from its cruising altitude about an hour before landing. The impact of the crash left twisted pieces of metal on the ground and strewn the passengers’ belongings on the steep hills.
No survivors have been found, Zhu Tao, director of aviation safety at the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), told reporters on Tuesday evening.
“The plane was badly damaged in the crash and the investigations will face a very high level of difficulty,” Zhu said during the government’s first briefing on the disaster.
“Given the information currently available, we still do not have a clear assessment of the cause of the crash,” he said, adding that the plane did not respond to repeated calls from air traffic controllers during the crash. its rapid descent.
The accident is the first in China since 2010 and follows major safety improvements since the 1990s.
Search teams worked through the night using their hands, pickaxes, sniffer dogs and other equipment to search for survivors, state broadcaster CCTV reported.
The steep, uneven terrain and the fact that the debris had been spread over a wide area made it difficult to find the plane’s two black boxes – one in the tail and one in the cockpit – which record flight data and chats in the cockpit.
Finding the black boxes, which should provide clues to what happened, is a “key task”, the Global Times reported, saying drones were also deployed in the search.
The boxes are designed to withstand explosions, decay, high temperature fires, and other damage, and are also colored a bright orange to make them easier to find on land.
“Investigators will examine all aspects of this flight, including any mechanical or structural issues,” Hassan Shahidi, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation, told Al Jazeera. “They will review the aircraft’s maintenance history as well as the pilots’ training records. Boeing should be part of the process to provide the necessary expertise. Investigators would like to find the flight data recorder and voice recorder to find out exactly what happened.
Questions have arisen over the cause of the crash, which saw the Boeing 737-800 plummet 20,000ft (6,096m) in just over a minute before plunging to the ground.
The airline officially acknowledged that some on board the plane, which was traveling from Kunming city to the southern hub of Guangzhou, lost their lives, but refrained from declaring all on board as dead.
China’s worst commercial flight accident was a China Northwest Airlines crash in 1994 that killed all 160 people on board.
‘I miss you forever’
At Guangzhou airport, staff helped the families and friends of the 123 passengers and nine crew members on board the plane as they waited for news.
A user of Weibo, China’s Twitter-like platform, wrote that he was a friend of a crew member of the plane that crashed.
“I will forever miss you,” he wrote, describing the “enthusiasm” his friend took for his new job this year.
The disaster prompted an unusually quick public reaction from President Xi Jinping, who said he was “shocked” and called for “absolute safety” in air travel.
State media said Vice Premier Liu He, a powerful official close to Xi who usually deals with economic issues, had been dispatched to the area to oversee rescue and investigation work.