The Boeing 737 plane, operated by China Eastern Airlines, went down in the Guangxi region, and flames and smoke could be seen rising from a hillside, initial Chinese news reports said, according to pictures and videos shared from the scene. The fire was put out later Monday.
“The situation with casualties remains unclear,” said an online report issued by Chinese state television.
Residents in the area told reporters that the plane appeared to have shattered into debris, dampening hopes of finding survivors.
Initial reports said the plane, Flight 5735, crashed in Teng County in Guangxi while flying from Kunming, a city in southwest China, to Guangzhou, a city in the country’s far south. The plane was carrying 132 people, including 123 passengers and 9 crew members, according to the civil aviation administration. State media reports initially said 133 passengers were on board.
China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, quickly issued a statement calling for rescuers to do their utmost and “handle the aftermath in a proper manner.” The Chinese central government dispatched officials to the scene to deal with the disaster and investigation into its causes.
“Ensure the absolute safety of civil aviation operations,” Mr. Xi said in his instructions.
The plane, about seven years old, had been flying steadily on this flight until it abruptly lost altitude at around 2:20 p.m., flight data indicated.
The plane was not a Boeing 737 Max, a model that has not resumed flying in China after a ban prompted by deadly crashes in Indonesia in 2018 and Ethiopia in 2019. But Chinese airline companies have begun making new orders for the Max after Chinese aviation authorities signaled late last year that the model could resume flying after introducing certain modifications and safety measures.
The crash could become one of China’s worst air disasters in many years, after a succession of deadly accidents in the 1990s. Over the past two decades, the country has established a relatively safe flying record, thanks to a young fleet of planes and stricter air controls.
Firefighters in Teng County were first alerted to a possible flight accident there in the afternoon when villagers reported that they had come across debris from a plane, the China News Service reported.
Reporting was contributed by John Liu, Liu Yi, Claire Fu, and Amy Chang Chien.