All 132 people aboard China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 were officially declared dead on Saturday. The flight 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 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 tragedy 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 of China Eastern Airlines, said the plane met maintenance standards and the pilots had good job performance and were not known to be having any problems in their personal lives.
Chinese authorities tend to tightly control information flow regarding major accidents and other politically sensitive events, and there are signs this is the case with the crash.
In an unusual occurrence, the state-run China Civil Aviation News on Friday reported that the second black box was 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 U.S. 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.
China Eastern Airlines Flight 5735 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.
The plane 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.
Passengers on the plane included a young couple who were taking their toddler daughter to get surgery in Guangzhou, executives from a Guangzhou mining company, a woman who had recently married and a woman returning to Guangzhou after going home for Lunar New Year, local media reported.
Lyric Li and Claire Parker contributed to this report.