China Eastern 737-800 Crashes With 132 Onboard

China Eastern Boeing 737-800 that crashed on March 21, 2022
China Eastern 737-800, reg. B-1791, crashed in southern China on March 21, 2022. The aircraft is pictured here at Seattle's Boeing Field in June 2015 prior to handover to the carrier.
Credit: Joe Walker

SINGAPORE—A China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 (s/n 41474, reg. B-1791) has crashed into the mountains near Wuzhou, southern China, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has confirmed.

MU5735 was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members from Kunming to Guangzhou. The Guangxi Emergency Management Department told China Daily that the incident caused a “mountain fire” and rescue teams had been deployed to the scene. The number of casualties is unclear. The CAAC said that it has activated its “emergency mechanisms.”

The country’s state media CCTV reported that China Eastern will be grounding all 737-800s starting March 22, citing sources. China Eastern has 75 737-800s in its fleet, more than 80% in service.

While the CAAC has not taken any action on the 737NG fleet, the regulator has shown it will not hesitate to ground a fleet immediately after an accident if it has safety concerns. It was the first regulator in the world to ground the 737 MAX family following the second crash of the type in March 2019.

“Under normal circumstances, authorities would not ground all 737s after a crash unless there were reason to suspect a common problem,” wrote Cowen & Co. analysts in a note. “Given BA’s [Boeing’s] problems with the 737 MAX, there is some chance that consumers may not want to fly on a 737 until the cause of the China Eastern crash is determined not to be a design or manufacturing issue. Hence, isolating the cause of the crash will be critical.” CAAC was the first regulator in the world to ground the 737 MAX family following the second crash of the type in March 2019. 

Flight tracking site Flightradar24 shows the aircraft rapidly descending from 30,000 ft. to ground level over period of three minutes.  The aircraft departed Kunming at around 1:11 p.m. local time before crashing in the last segment of the flight, about 170 mi. from Guangzhou airport, at around 2:25 p.m. Flightradar24 shows the same aircraft flew from Chongqing to Kunming on the same morning and last flew two legs on March 18.

Unverified CCTV footage apparently from a nearby building and vehicle dash-cam videos circulating online all show the 737 plunging toward the ground at a steep angle. 

China’s fire service has meanwhile released drone-captured video of the crater, which is scattered with fragments of debris. The remains of a winglet bearing the China Eastern logo is clearly visible.

According to Aviation Week Network Fleet Discovery database, the 6.8 year-old 737-800 was delivered to China Eastern in June 2015 and has clocked 17,708 hours over 8,734 cycles.

The accident marks China’s first fatal aviation accident since 2010, when a Henan Airlines Embraer E190 crashed on approach to Yichun airport killing 44 of the 96 onboard. 

A Chinese 737-800 lost its hull in August 2018 when a Xiamen Air 737-800 skidded off the runway at Manila International Airport in rainy conditions. No one was seriously hurt in the incident.

Chen Chuanren

Chen Chuanren is the Southeast Asia and China Editor for the Aviation Week Network’s (AWN) Air Transport World (ATW) and the Asia-Pacific Defense Correspondent for AWN, joining the team in 2017.