A Boeing 737 carrying 132 people has plummeted 30,000ft to the ground before bursting into flames in a remote Chinese mountain range – with no sign of survivors.
The China Eastern Airlines flight nosedived before smashing into the hillside and erupting in a huge fireball near the city of Wuzhou in Teng county in the southern province of Guangxi.
A rescue official reportedly said the plane had completely disintegrated while a fire sparked by the crash ripped through bamboo and trees before being put out.
Horrifying CCTV footage emerged on social media supposedly showing the jet racing vertically towards the ground in the moments before the smash.
President Xi Jinping said that he was ‘shocked’ by the incident and immediately ordered an investigation into the cause.
It is not yet clear what caused the sudden dip and crash, but aviation experts told MailOnline it may have been ‘a loss of control event’ or a sensory failure in the cockpit.
The plane, flight number MU5735 from Kunming to Guangzhou, is believed to be a Boeing 737-89P, which is not part of the MAX series that has been dogged by problems in recent years.
China’s Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said the aircraft lost contact over the city of Wuzhou.
It had 123 passengers and nine crew on board. State media said earlier there were 133 people on board.
The CAAC said in a statement: ‘The CAAC has activated the emergency mechanism and sent a working group to the scene.’
The Aviation Safety Network tweeted: ‘We are following multiple unconfirmed reports about a possible accident involving China Eastern Airlines flight #MU5735 a Boeing 737-89P (B-1791) en route from Kunming to Guangzhou, China.’
President Xi said: ‘We are shocked to learn of the China Eastern MU5735 accident.
He also called for ‘all efforts’ towards the rescue and to find out the ’cause of the accident as soon as possible’.
One villager told a local news site the plane involved in the crash had ‘completely fallen apart’ and he had seen forest destroyed by the fire caused by the crash.
A local official added: ‘The exact location of the accident was Langnan township in Teng county.’
The flight departed the southwestern city of Kunming at 1.11pm (5.11pm GMT), FlightRadar24 data showed.
But tracking ended at 2.22pm (6.22am GMT) at an altitude of 3,225 feet with a speed of 376 knots.
The plane had been cruising at an altitude 29,100 feet at 6.20am GMT, according to FlightRadar24 data.
Just over two minutes and 15 seconds later, the next available data showed it had descended to 9,075 feet. In another 20 seconds, its last tracked altitude was 3,225 feet.
It had been due to land in Guangzhou, on the east coast, at 3.05pm (7.05am GMT).
Shares of Boeing Co were down 6.4 per cent at $180.44 in premarket trade.
Boeing did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The website of China Eastern Airlines was later presented in black and white, which airlines do in response to a crash as a sign of respect for the assumed victims.
Arthur Rowe, specialist fellow in gas turbine performance and operability centre for propulsion engineering at Cranfield University, told MailOnline: ‘It looks most likely a loss of control event, possibly following a high altitude stall of the aircraft.
‘As usual there are multiple possible causes. Jammed or unresponsive control surfaces, especially on the tail are one.
‘An inappropriate combination of autopilot settings is another – I’m not familiar with the details of this aircraft’s flight controls though.
‘Sabotage, although that’s probably unlikely on a domestic Chinese flight given the Covid restrictions on entering the country.
‘It’s unlikely to be engine related as aircraft can fly perfectly well with no engine power – for a limited time obviously.’
Professor Bharath Ganapathisubramani, from Southampton University’s engineering and physical sciences department added: ‘Having looked at this and discussed with colleagues, we think that it is far too early to even speculate on possible causes.
‘If the Flight Data Recorder and slash or the Cockpit Voice Recorder are found and are in a usable condition, we should know much more in a few months’ time, with a final, definitive answer to what caused the tragedy likely to emerge in a year or so – based on the typical timelines of such events.’
Tao Yang, associate professor in engineering at Nottingham University, said: ‘The plane was completely out of control and at this stage it is very difficult to say what has happened. However, most of the aeroplane accidents are related to sensors failure – ice protection fails.’