China Eastern Airlines crash: Here’s all we know so far

The worst accident that happened in China in over a decade.
Ameya Paleja

Two days after the China Eastern Airlines flight MU5735 plummeted to the ground, the desperate search for survivors and clues into the cause of the accident continues, the New York Times reported

Boeing 737-800 took off from the city of Kunming in the Yunnan province for Guangzhao city in the southeastern Guangdong province. Under normal circumstances, the distance of 675 miles is covered under two hours, but on March 21st, the aircraft crashed a little after an hour of flight. 

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Crashing while cruising

The crash is one of the rare events in aviation history, where an aircraft has had an accident while at a cruising altitude. Around the time it should have begun its descent towards its destination, the aircraft nosedived towards the mountains in Teng country in Guanxi province.

According to NYT's report, just three percent of fatal accidents occur during this phase of an aircraft's flight. The plane was cruising at 29,000 feet at 2:17 pm local time (0617 GMT) but was found to have suddenly lost altitude within the next few minutes. Attempts by the air traffic controllers to contact the plane received no answer and the plane's radar signal was lost by 2:23 pm (0623 GMT). 

Analyzing the data from Flightradar24, it appears that the plane dropped towards the ground at the rate of over 30,000 feet per minute. At this rate, it is likely that the passengers were flung to the aircraft's ceiling and then suddenly pinned to their seats as the aircraft briefly recovered from the nosedive and climbed a thousand feet within 10 seconds, Fortune reported. Following this, the aircraft plunged downward again to never recover.

Long wait for answers

Firefighters put out the fire caused by the crash within a few hours. Even as hundreds of rescue workers comb through the area, the chances of finding survivors among the 132 people onboard are bleak. 

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Details of the flight's maintenance history were not revealed by the airlines' spokesperson who told members of the media that the aircraft and the crew were found to be competent before take-off.

It is hard to find fault with Boeing's 737-800 aircraft, which has been the workhorse of the commercial aviation sector since the late 1990s when its production began. Over 5,000 aircraft have been built so far with an impeccable safety record

China's aviation regulator also raised its requirements for flights after fatal crashes in the 1990s, and there's been an admirable safety record for over a decade until last Monday.   

Since Monday, relatives of passengers have been arriving at the Guangzhou airport where the ill-fated aircraft was due to land around 3 pm local time (0705 GMT). The airline has set up an emergency task force to handle inquiries and made arrangements for them to stay in nearby hotel rooms, local news media have reported. 

With the aircraft reduced to bits and the black boxes yet to be found, the long wait for answers for the mourning relatives of passengers on flight MU5735 has only begun.