The Boeing 737-800 jet carried 132 people, including nine crew members, and is one of the country’s worst air disasters in more than a decade. It was headed to the Chinese port city of Guangzhou from Kunming, capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan.
In a statement issued within hours of the crash, Chinese President Xi Jinping ordered the country’s emergency services to assemble search efforts and has ordered a full investigation. About 600 soldiers, firefighters, paramilitary forces, police and some dogs have been deployed to the crash site after a small path was cleared by excavators, state media reported, who described the search as “grim.”
Rescuers are searching for flight recorders containing critical flight data and cockpit voice recordings, state-run China Youth Daily reported. The search is reportedly being conducted in a grid-by-grid fashion throughout the night. The difficult terrain of the site allows for only one path of access due to the mountainous terrain that surrounds the 1-square-kilometer crash site. Rain is forecast for the area this week.
The Xinhua news agency reported that the crash created a deep ditch on the mountain slope, with debris scattered everywhere. Other outlets have reported the burned remains of identity cards, wallets, and purses have been spotted.
“The fact that the [Chinese] president made such a pronounced and quick response to this tells me that they're taking it very, very seriously," said David Soucie, a former safety inspector at the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.