All 132 people on board the China Eastern Airlines jetliner that crashed in the densely forested mountains of southern China Monday are dead, China’s aviation authorities confirmed Saturday night.
For days, rescue teams had been combing through the crash site – wading through heavy mud and thicket, scattered with debris and plane parts – in southern China’s Guangxi region, while desperate family members waited for news of their loved ones.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) said they have identified 120 of the victims using DNA testing, including 114 passengers and six crew members.
Monday’s crash of the Boeing 737-800 plane marks China’s worst air disaster in more than a decade. Flight MU5735 was en route from the southwestern city of Kunming to Guangzhou with 123 passengers and nine crew members on board, when it lost contact over the city of Wuzhou, the CAAC said in a statement.
The cause of the crash has not yet been determined but the discovery of the cockpit voice recorder on Wednesday might provide crucial clues to how the disaster unfolded. It is one of two so-called “black boxes,” with investigators still searching for the flight data recorder.
Zhu Tao, director of the CAAC’s Aviation Safety Office, said at a press conference Saturday that teams did find an emergency locator transmitter, which is usually installed close to the second black box.
An airline representative said on Tuesday, the plane was “flying normally” before it suddenly began dropping and lost contact with ground control, just over an hour into the flight. Pre-flight examinations showed nothing amiss, and all crew members were healthy and qualified, he added.
An investigation by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is ongoing, with the US National Transportation Safety Board and the US Federal Aviation Administration also involved. But it could take months, or even more than a year, before families receive any answers – the final report for the fatal 2010 Henan Airlines crash wasn’t released until almost two years later.
Air crash investigators warned on Tuesday that their probe into the cause of the crash will be “very difficult” due to how severely damaged the plane is.
China Eastern Airlines and its subsidiaries temporarily grounded 223 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, airline spokesperson Liu Xiaodong said on Thursday.
The grounded aircraft are undergoing safety inspection and maintenance to ensure that they are safe to fly, he said. The airline also launched a sweeping safety overhaul after the crash, he added.
The 737-800 is the most common version of Boeing’s jets now in service, and it is the workhorse of many airlines’ fleets.
There are 4,502 of the 737-800s now in service worldwide, according to aviation analytics firm Cirium, making it by far the most common Boeing (BA) aircraft in use today.