A China Eastern passenger jet carrying 123 passengers and nine crew members crashed onto a mountainside in southern China in the afternoon of March 21 causing a large fire, shortly after losing contact with air traffic control and dropping thousands of metres in just three minutes.

There was no immediate confirmation of the number of casualties, but the disaster prompted an unusually swift public reaction from President Xi Jinping who said he was “shocked” and ordered an immediate investigation into its cause.

The Boeing 737 flight from Kunming city to the southern hub of Guangzhou “lost airborne contact over Wuzhou” city in the Guangxi region, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The CAAC said it activated its emergency response after the crash, while hundreds of firefighters were dispatched to the scene.

Flight tracking website FlightRadar24 showed no data for the flight after 2:22 pm. The tracker showed the plane had sharply dropped from an altitude of 8,870m to 983m in the span of three minutes, before flight information stopped.

State broadcaster CCTV said the crash “caused a mountain fire” which was later extinguished, as rescuers poured to the scene in Teng county near Wuzhou.

One villager told a local news site that the plane involved in the crash had “completely fallen apart” and he had seen nearby forest areas destroyed by a fire caused when the plane crashed onto the mountainside. AFP