After the Boeing plane crash in China, a desperate hunt for survivors

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After the Boeing plane crash in China, a desperate hunt for survivors

Rescuers gathered on Tuesday for a desperate search to avoid the crash of a passenger plane carrying 132 people, just a minute before it crashed in a remote mountain valley in southern China on Monday.

China Eastern Airlines, which operates the Boeing 737-800, and the central government are investigating the cause of the crash, which is likely to be the country’s worst aviation disaster in more than a decade.

China’s air safety record over the past two decades has been strong, but the crash will become another public safety concern for President Xi Jinping, whose government is battling its biggest outbreak of Covid-19 cases since early 2020. For Boeing, accidents could happen. Renew the regulatory investigation that followed two accidents in recent years involving another aircraft, the 737 MAX.

Flight MU-5735 took off at 1:11 pm from Kunming, the capital of southwestern Yunnan province, according to Flightradar24, a tracking platform. About halfway to its destination, Guangzhou, the commercial hub of southeast China, the plane was cruising at 29,100 feet.

Then, at about 2:20, the aircraft “suddenly began to lose altitude very rapidly,” Flightradar24 said in a tweet, According to data from Flightradar24, it rapidly descended 20,000 feet – almost a vertical drop – and rose to an altitude of about 8,000 feet before continuing its plunge.

Then a rumble of thunder erupted in a tree-covered valley, where the loudest sound usually comes from a swarm of insects and villagers’ motorbikes. At first, residents of Teng County in the Guangxi region were astonished by the explosion, they told Chinese news outlets.

Plumes of smoke were floating over the clusters of bamboo and banana trees. Farmers saw pieces of debris, apparently from the plane’s wings and fuselage, some showing the letters China Eastern. And villagers gathered to put out some of the fires in the hills, one said in a telephone interview with The New York Times.

Hundreds of rescuers flooded the site, but according to initial reports, only debris were encountered – including parts of an aircraft wing and pieces of burnt clothing – in the heavily wooded, remote area.

Pictures and video showed a frenzy of nighttime activity as rescuers assembled tents and command posts, installed power supplies and lights, and lined up dozens of ambulances in hopes of finding anyone alive. Dozens of local volunteers were carried on motorbikes to water, food and tents.

The rain, which has been forecast for the region, remained closed for at least most of the night. But rain was expected on Tuesday, and hills covered with shrubs, ferns and bamboo may hinder searches.

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China’s Civil Aviation Administration said 123 passengers and nine crew members were on board the plane. According to state media, family members of the crew had begun to gather at the airline’s office in Kunming, and relatives of the passengers were at the airport in Guangzhou, the plane’s destination.

“The cause of the plane crash is still being investigated and the company will actively cooperate with the relevant investigation,” China Eastern said in a statement on Monday night. “The company expresses its deepest condolences to the passengers and crew members killed in the plane crash.”

The Shanghai-based airline is the second largest airline in China by number of passengers. Like China Southern and Air China, which are among the top three carriers, China Eastern is controlled by the government.

Before the start of the epidemic in lockdown, China’s aviation industry had become the largest in the world. But the road to the industry was bumpy: China suffered fatal air crashes in the early 1990s before tightening its surveillance. Over the past two decades, its airlines have built one of the best air safety records in the world.

“Historically it was questionable, but in the new era, it has been very good from a safety point of view,” said David Yu, a finance professor specializing in aviation at New York University’s Shanghai campus, of China’s airline industry.

The country’s last major accident was in 2010, when an Embraer plane operated by Henan Airlines crashed and burned while trying to land on a foggy runway in northeastern China. Of the 96 people on board, 44 died.

After Monday’s crash, Mr. Xi immediately issued a statement calling on rescue workers to do everything possible to find survivors, and urged “increased security checks in the civil aviation sector” to “ensure So that people’s life is absolutely safe.”

That promise to keep Chinese citizens safe has become an important symbol of Mr. Xi’s authority. Mr. Xi, China’s most influential leader in decades, has often projected the ruling Communist Party as the country’s protector in a dangerous and uncertain world.

The explorers in Guangxi are assigned to oversee the rescue effort and investigation into the causes of the disaster by a Chinese vice premier, Liu He – a powerful official who usually steers economic policy.

Recent missteps in evacuating Chinese citizens from war-torn Ukraine and the deadly floods in Henan province last year that killed more than 300 people have tarnished that image. Still, Mr. Xi’s promise of accountability for the accident will raise hopes for a quick and thorough investigation into Monday’s disaster.

Until the pandemic, Chinese airlines had hired a large proportion of their pilots from overseas, as air travel grew faster than China’s ability to train its pilots. China developed a reputation for offering some of the highest salaries in the world to experienced foreign pilots.

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But many of these foreign pilots have returned to their home countries in the past two years as China has halted almost all international air travel during the pandemic, and domestic travel has also reduced somewhat. Chinese airlines now rely almost entirely on Chinese pilots, Mr Yu said.

China is designing its own alternative to the Boeing 737-800 that crashed on Monday. That model, the C919, is being built by a government company in Shanghai. China Eastern through one of its subsidiaries is set to become the first airline to operate the C919 in the coming months.

China Eastern’s last fatal accident was in 2004, when a Bombardier CRJ-200 flying from Inner Mongolia’s Baotou city to Shanghai crashed into a frozen lake shortly after takeoff, killing 55 people. Safety regulators said the disaster was caused by snow on the wings.

According to Flightradar 24, Monday’s crash had resulted in a Boeing plane being diverted to China Eastern in 2015. It was a 737-800 NG, a line that accounts for about 17 percent of the roughly 25,000 passenger aircraft in service worldwide, according to Cerium, an aviation data provider.

Shares of China Eastern and Boeing fell in Hong Kong and New York, respectively, with Boeing shares falling 3.6 percent on Monday.

Boeing’s new single-aisle plane, the 737 MAX, has drawn intense global scrutiny after one crash in Indonesia and another in Ethiopia in late 2018. The model was razed around the world after the second accident in March 2019. Boeing made several changes to the aircraft before being re-approved for commercial service in most countries 20 months later.

But China waited longer than most countries to allow the 737 MAX to fly again. China’s aviation regulators approved it in early December, but demanded that Chinese airlines prove they had made all the changes to Boeing before they could actually start flying them again on commercial routes.

Boeing on Monday offered its condolences to the families of the victims and said it was in contact with China Eastern and a security agency in the United States. also said that it would be help the authorities In China who are investigating the accident.

Austin Ramzi,Neeraj Chokshi,joy dong Liu Yi and nadav gavrilov Contributed to reporting.

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