Flight MU5735, which carried nine crew members and 123 passengers, reportedly went down near Wuzhou in the Guangxi autonomous region just before 2:30 p.m., Beijing time.
VariFlight, a China-based civil aviation data provider, said the plane was up at about 8,900 meters (approximately 29,200 feet) when it started to slow down and descend at 2:19 p.m. Minutes later, it dropped to 1,300 meters (4,265 feet) and lost radar contact.
Flight-tracking website FlightRadar24.com reported a similar account. According to its data, the aircraft was up at about 30,000 feet (9,144 meters) when it entered a deep dive just after 2:20 p.m.
A truck driver identified only as Li recalled seeing smoke as he drove to Wuzhou.
“I was about 2-3 kilometers away, I couldn’t hear the sound but the black smoke was there, it looked like an explosion,” Li said.
At approximately 3 p.m., the Wuzhou Fire Brigade deployed 25 fire engines and 117 firefighters to the crash site. A batch of 538 fire and rescue personnel from all over Guanxi followed and helped extinguish the blaze at around 5:15 p.m.
Multiple medical personnel were also deployed to the site; however, not a single survivor has been reported to be found as of this writing.
In response to the crash, China Eastern Airlines reportedly suspended all 737-800 jets and assembled nine teams to deal with accident investigation, aircraft disposal and family assistance. China Eastern is one of the country’s leading airlines.
Boeing delivered the aircraft, which reportedly had a good safety record, to the airline in June 2015.
“[We] can confirm the plane has crashed,” China Eastern said in a statement. “The company expresses its deep condolences for the passengers and crew members who died in the plane crash.”
Later on Monday, Xi called for the immediate activation of emergency mechanisms to address the accident. The State Council, which functions as China’s cabinet, will have its officials investigate the crash as a priority, as well as general safety hazards to improve passenger safety.
Premier Li Keqiang called for maximum search and rescue efforts in service of the victims’ families.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the Ministry of Emergency Management and other relevant departments have also sent working groups to aid in the rescue efforts and aftermath of the crash.