March 26 (UPI) — All 132 people aboard the plane that crashed in southern China earlier this week have died, a senior Chinese official announced on Saturday.
Sustained search and rescue efforts showed no signs of life at the crash site, Hu Zhenjiang, deputy head of Civil Aviation Administration of China, said at a news conference covered by China Daily.
“We have analyzed surveillance video footages, air traffic control data and the pattern of the debris at the crash site. We can be certain that there are no survivors,” he said.
“With a heavy heart and deep sadness, we are here to announce that the 123 passengers and nine crew members onboard China Eastern Flight MU5735 have all lost their life.”
China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 had been traveling from Kunming to Guangzhou on Monday when it crashed headfirst into the mountains of Guangxi, an autonomous region in southern China. Video footage and witness accounts indicate the plane dropped more than 25,000 feet and sparked a fire when it landed near the city of Wuzhou.
The cause of the crash remains unknown. State media reported on Wednesday that searchers had found one of the two “black boxes” aboard the flight — a black box records information about the flight, and its discovery could help investigators determine why the plane nosedived.
“The investigation is very difficult as the aircraft was severely damaged,” Zhu Tao, head of the aviation safety office of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said on Wednesday.
Aviation safety experts remain perplexed as to what went wrong. Weather conditions were fine, the plane does not appear to have broken down mid-flight, and pilots didn’t raise any alarms.
Steve Dickson, the outgoing head of the Federal Aviation Administration, told CNBC that the type of plane that went down was “one of the safest aircraft ever produced in commercial operation.”
“It’s one of the most widely used aircraft around the world. By all indications, this was an airworthy aircraft,” Dickson said.
The aircraft was a Boeing 737-800, one of Boeing’s Next Generation fleet.
The plane’s passengers included a couple who had been taking their toddler daughter to Guangzhou for a surgical procedure, executives at a mining company and a woman returning to Guangzhou after traveling for Lunar New Year, The Washington Post reported.