All 132 people aboard China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 were officially declared dead on Saturday. The Boeing 737-800 crashed into a mountain on Monday, and despite slim odds of survivors, authorities had held off on confirming a casualty count for five days as thousands of search-and-rescue personnel fanned out across the mountainside.
Zhu Tao, the head of the aviation safety office of China’s Civil Aviation Administration, said at a news conference on Saturday that no traces of explosives have been found at the crash sight.
The crash is China’s deadliest since 1994, when a China Northwest Airlines flight crashed in Xian, killing 160 people. The plane had broken up in the air because of an autopilot malfunction.
The cause of this crash remains a mystery. The weather was fine, and Chinese aviation authorities said the flight crew had not sent any distress signals before the plane suddenly nosedived near the end of its flight, about when it should have begun a gradual descent.
Sun Shiying, a senior executive at China Eastern Airlines, said that the plane met maintenance standards and that the pilots had good job performance records and were not known to be having any problems in their personal lives.
Chinese authorities tend to tightly control information regarding major accidents and other politically sensitive events, and there are signs that is the case with this crash.
In an unusual occurrence, the state-run China Civil Aviation News on Friday reported that the second black box had been found, but then retracted it, issuing an apology for lapses in fact-checking.
There have also been reports from Chinese journalists that they attempted to reach the crash site and were stopped by police.
A final investigation report could take months or even years, the official China News Service said.
The US National Transportation Safety Board has assembled a team of technical experts from the Federal Aviation Administration, Boeing and engine manufacturer CFM International to join the Chinese investigation.
The plane was carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members from Kunming toward Guangzhou in southern China when it plummeted into the mountains in Guangxi on Monday afternoon. It plunged more than 25,000 feet in less than three minutes and crashed into a mountain near Molang village in the city of Wuzhou, sparking a forest fire.
Lyric Li and Claire Parker contributed to this report.