No survivors of a China Eastern Airlines plane crash have been found after a second day of search efforts, Chinese investigators said late Tuesday.
In China’s worst air disaster in more than a decade, the Boeing 737-800 — carrying 132 people — crashed Monday afternoon in a remote, mountainous region in the south of the country as it flew from Kunming to Guangzhou.
Communications with the crew could not be established in the final moments before the airliner crashed, Chinese air crash investigators said at a Tuesday news conference.
The ground station noticed that the plane had a sudden altitude change, and then it lost communication with the plane, before the plane eventually crashed,” said Sun Shiying, a representative for China Eastern Airlines.
The aircraft had passed pre-flight checks and the nine crew members were qualified and healthy, added Sun.
The cause of the crash is not yet clear, an official from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said. “The investigation team will spare no effort to collect evidence from all parties and focus on search,” said the CAAC official.
Investigators still haven’t located the plane’s black boxes, state broadcaster CCTV reported Tuesday, and are facing difficult terrain and poor weather.
The black boxes are flight data and cockpit voice recorders which could hold crucial clues to how the disaster unfolded.
The probe into the cause of the crash will be “very difficult,” warned investigators, due to how severely damaged the plane is.
Photos and videos posted by state media show giant plumes of smoke rising above the mountains following the crash. Search and rescue crews wade through the thicket, scattered with debris and plane parts. Wallets, ID cards and fragments of a phone were among personal belongings strewn on the ground, China Youth Daily reported.
In the minutes before the disaster, the plane had been at a cruising altitude of 29,000 feet (about 8,900 meters), according to flight tracking data from FlightRadar24. Then, the jet nosedived so quickly that it plunged more than 25,000 feet (7,600 meters) in under two minutes.
Security footage from a mining company near the crash site shows what appears to be a plane hurtling toward the forest, nearly vertical in its rapid fall. CNN cannot independently confirm the authenticity of the video, or that the aircraft is China Eastern Flight 5735 — but the steep decline matches the flight tracking data.
Witnesses reported seeing a fiery explosion, airplane parts and clothing tangled in the trees, and swathes of the woods aflame.
One item retrieved from the crash site, a handwritten note describing the significance of traditional jade jewelry, was photographed and spread widely online. The jewelry signifies “a complete life, a smooth career, family happiness, inner peace … which outlines people’s expectations of life,” the note read — prompting messages of mourning on Chinese social media.
On Monday evening, relatives of the passengers gathered in the Guangzhou airport, waiting for any news of their loved ones as authorities launched an investigation into the crash.