The fatal crash of a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 on 21 March is China’s deadliest crash this century, and the third worst air disaster in the country’s history.
Search parties continue to scour the hillside where B-1791/MSN41474 crashed while operating service MU5735 on the Kunming-Guangzhou route. The aircraft was carrying 132 passengers and crew.
While Boeing, enginemaker CFM International, and the US National Transportation Safety Board will assist in the investigation, it is not clear if the geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington DC are conducive to openness and transparency. Chinese authorities have yet to say whether aircraft’s cockpit voice recorders and flight data recorders have been recovered.
Cirium fleets data suggests that before MU5735, the biggest disaster involving a Chinese airline this century occured on 15 April 2002, when an Air China 767-200ER (B-2552/23308) operating service CA129 crashed into a hill during poor weather while attempting to land at the South Korean city Busan.
During a right turn on approach to runway 18R, the co-pilot lost sight of the runway when the jet entered a cloud. He notified the captain, but shortly after this the aircraft flew into the hill at an elevation of 730ft and 1.9nm (3.5km) from the runway threshold.
The CA129 crash killed 128 passengers and crew, with 28 passengers and three crew suffering injuries.
China’s third biggest air disaster this century occurred weeks later on 7 May 2002 when a Boeing MD-80 operated by China Northern Airlines (B-2138/495222) crashed in the sea off Dalian while operating a service from Beijing.
Press reports indicate that a major fire broke out in the aircraft’s cabin. Passenger sabotage was suspected, as one passenger bought seven life insurance policies prior to boarding.
All 103 passengers and nine crew died in the disaster.
Prior to MU5735, the two biggest Chinese air disasters on record occurred in the early 1990s.
On 6 June 1994 a Tupolev Tu-154 (B-2610/86A740) of China Northwest Airlines suffered a loss of control in flight, resulting in the deaths of all 146 passengers and 14 crew.
The aircraft had just departed Xian operating service WH2303 to Guangzhou when it crashed in a field 8min after take off.
A mid-air breakup is suspected, as the tail section was found 0.6 miles from the nose. Media reports indicate that the pilot reported violent shaking, as well as yawing and banking. It is understood that the control issues stemmed from a botched maintenance job, whereby the jet’s yaw-channel was connected to the bank control, and vice versa.
|MAJOR CHINESE AIR DISASTERS SINCE 1971|
|Accident Date||Operator at Accident||Manufacturer at Accident||Type at Accident||Loss Type||Flight Phase 1||Occurrence 1||Total Fatalities||Total Injured|
|13-09-1971||CAAC||BAE Systems (HS)||Trident||Total Loss||En Route||Power Loss||9||0|
|21-01-1976||CAAC||Antonov||An-24||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Loss of control in flight||42||0|
|27-02-1977||CAAC||UAC (Ilyushin)||Il-18||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Undershot||25||0|
|14-03-1979||CAAC||BAE Systems (HS)||Trident||Total Loss||Take Off - Initial Climb||Loss of control in flight||22||22|
|20-03-1980||CAAC||Antonov||An-24||Total Loss||Landing - Go Around||Loss of control in flight||26||0|
|26-04-1982||CAAC||BAE Systems (HS)||Trident||Total Loss||Landing - Initial Descent||Collision with high ground||112||0|
|17-11-1982||China General Aviation||Bell||Bell 212||Total Loss||En Route||Unknown||15||0|
|24-12-1982||CAAC||UAC (Ilyushin)||Il-18||Total Loss||En Route||Explosion or fire||25||26|
|27-02-1983||CAAC||BAE Systems (HS)||Trident||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Loss of control on ground||0||0|
|14-09-1983||CAAC||BAE Systems (HS)||Trident||Total Loss||Ground, Taxi||Collision with aircraft||11||27|
|18-01-1985||CAAC||Antonov||An-24||Total Loss||Landing - Go Around||Loss of control in flight||38||2|
|09-09-1985||Air China||Bell||Bell 412||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Unknown||4||3|
|22-10-1985||CAAC||Viking Air||Short 360 (SD3-60)||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Overrun||0||25|
|15-12-1986||CAAC||Antonov||An-24||Total Loss||Take Off - Climb to Cruise||Power Loss||6||18|
|18-01-1988||CAAC||UAC (Ilyushin)||Il-18||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Power Loss||108||0|
|31-08-1988||CAAC||BAE Systems (HS)||Trident||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Undershot||7||13|
|05-05-1989||Air China||Bell||Bell 412||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Component or system failure||11||0|
|15-08-1989||China Eastern Airlines||Antonov||An-24||Total Loss||Take Off - Initial Climb||Power Loss||34||4|
|22-03-1990||Air China||BAE Systems (HS)||Trident||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Overrun||0||0|
|02-10-1990||China Southern Airlines||Boeing||757||Total Loss||Ground, Parked||Collision with aircraft||128||52|
|02-10-1990||China Southwest Airlines||Boeing||707||Total Loss||Non-Operational - Attended||Collision with aircraft||0||0|
|02-10-1990||Xiamen Airlines||Boeing||737 (JT8D)||Total Loss||En Route||Hijacked||128||52|
|31-07-1992||China General Aviation||UAC (Yakovlev)||Yak-42||Total Loss||Take Off Run||Overrun||107||19|
|11-08-1992||China General Aviation||Russian Helicopters (Mil)||Mi-8||Total Loss||Not known||Unknown||15||9|
|24-11-1992||China Southern Airlines||Boeing||737 (CFMI)||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Loss of control in flight||141||0|
|23-07-1993||China Northwest Airlines||BAE Systems (HS)||BAe 146||Total Loss||Take Off Run||Overrun||55||16|
|26-10-1993||China Eastern Airlines||Boeing (McDonnell-Douglas)||MD-80||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Overrun||2||13|
|13-11-1993||China Northern Airlines||Boeing (McDonnell-Douglas)||MD-80||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Undershot||12||7|
|06-06-1994||China Northwest Airlines||UAC (Tupolev)||Tu-154||Total Loss||Take Off - Climb to Cruise||Loss of control in flight||160||0|
|20-07-1994||China Yunnan Airlines||Boeing||737 (CFMI)||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Overrun||0||0|
|08-05-1997||China Southern Airlines||Boeing||737 (CFMI)||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Hard landing||35||0|
|24-02-1999||China Southwest Airlines||UAC (Tupolev)||Tu-154||Total Loss||Landing - Initial Descent||Component or system failure||61||0|
|09-06-1999||China Southern Airlines||Boeing||737 (CFMI)||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Loss of control on ground||0||0|
|22-06-2000||China Eastern Airlines Wuhan||Xian Aircraft Company||Y-7||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Loss of control in flight||49||0|
|15-04-2002||Air China||Boeing||767||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Collision with high ground||128||28|
|07-05-2002||China Northern Airlines||Boeing (McDonnell-Douglas)||MD-80||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Sabotage, arson etc||112||0|
|07-12-2002||Air Changan||De Havilland Canada||DHC-8||Total Loss||Non-Operational - Engine Running||Collision with objects||0||0|
|21-11-2004||China Yunnan Airlines||Bombardier (Canadair)||CRJ100/200||Total Loss||Take Off - Initial Climb||Loss of control in flight||55||0|
|24-08-2010||Henan Airlines||Embraer||E190||Total Loss||Landing - Approach||Undershot||42||18|
|16-05-2013||Shandong Airlines||Boeing||737 (CFMI)||Total Loss||Non-Operational - Attended||Explosion or fire||0||0|
|16-08-2018||Xiamen Airlines||Boeing||737 NG||Total Loss||Landing - Landing Roll||Loss of control on ground||0||0|
|27-08-2019||Air China||Airbus||A330||Total Loss||Ground, Parked||Explosion or fire||0||0|
|21-03-2022||China Eastern Airlines Yunnan||Boeing||737 NG||Total Loss||En Route||Unknown||132||0|
China’s second worst air disaster occured on 24 November 1992, when a China Southern Airlines 737-300 (B-2523/24913) crashed into a vertical rock face 17nm from the runway while attempting to land at Guilin after a service from Guangzhou.
“It is understood that the 737 had descended to the initial approach altitude with both autopilot and autothrottle engaged,” reads Cirium’s narrative.
“After reaching the selected altitude, the autopilot levelled the aircraft and the autothrottles advanced. However, the right engine apparently did not respond and remained at idle power. It would seem that the crew did not realise this and the autopilot began to compensate for the asymmetric thrust by applying aileron.”
Apparently the pilot’s attempt to centre the controls caused the aircraft to rapidly roll right, impacting the cliff face at high speed.
A previous crew had reported an issue with the right thrust lever, but apparently this was not fixed. 133 passengers and eight crew died in the disaster.