Chinese air carriers have an accident rate of 0.29 per million flying hours, compared to a global average of 0.7. In the 1990s the International Air line Passengers Association has labeled China as one of the most dangerous places in the world to fly. Between 1987 and 1997 only five of the world's hundreds of airlines had four or more fatal crashes. They were: 1) Air India, with 7; 2) Korean Air, with 5; 3) USAir, with 5; 4) China Air, with 4; 5) Garuda Indonesian, with 4.

In the first six months of 1994, there were 17 near-accidents, in addition to "minor" incidents in which planes veered off the runway or scraped wings, or engines stalling in mid-air. Aviation officials blamed the problem on the deregulation and growth of the airline industry. There were 35 different airline companies in China at that time but not enough trained pilots to fly all the planes, many of which were modern foreign aircraft thought to be too complicated for Chinese pilots. [Source: Washington Post] On the website Flight Safety Information there are some pictures of a maintenance crew fixing the front landing gear of a Chinese 747 and damaging the tail in the process.

Air safety issues in China according to Associated Press are at least partly the result of China's increasingly busy airports, as traffic controllers struggle to keep up and airlines scramble for pilots, many of whom lack experience, analysts said. Congestion in China's skies also is adding to air traffic control problems, forcing detours, delays and raising the risks of collision, the International Air Traffic Association has warned. So far, China's overall safety rate is "respectable," Richard Aboulafia, vice president of Teal Group Corp., a consultancy told Associated Press in 2011, adding "Given China aviation's congestion and extremely high growth rates, there's bound to be a few improperly trained pilots and dubious runway procedures." [Source: Elaine Kurtenbach, AP, August 30, 2011

Associated Press reported: "Airports have proliferated as have smaller regional airlines as passenger numbers have soared. A year ago, 42 people died in the crash of a Henan Airlines flight making a night landing in a remote town in northeastern China. Adding to the confusion is China's own difficulties with pilots and pilot training. Experts say the country will need tens of thousands of new pilots in coming years to man its growing fleets of aircraft and also to replace the current generation of pilots as they retire. Already flight crews are stretched to the limit by manpower shortages. In 2008, China Eastern Airline saw disruptions to more than 20 flights in southwestern China's Yunnan province by pilots who either turned back midway through their flights or landed them and then took off again without letting passengers disembark.

Air Safety Airsafe Air Crashes Record Office . Aviation Safety Network ; Aviation Accidents U.S. Departmen of Transportation

Air Accidents in China in the 1990s

In 1992 more than 380 people were killed in 5 crashes, the worst year in China's aviation history and a fifth of all the air fatalities in the world that year. Chinese officials refused to allow foreign foreigners to inspect the wreckage or retrieve the black box from a 737-330 that crashed in November 1992, killing 141 people. There was some speculation that accident may have been caused by a malfunction of Chinese-made spare parts. In 1993, 76 people were killed in five crashes.

In June, 1994, a Soviet-made Tupolev-154, crashed 10 minutes after take-off in Xian, killing all 160 aboard. In April 1994, a CAAC Airbus A-300 crashed nears its destination at Nagoya Airport in Japan, killing 262 of the 271 people on board. It was China’s worst aviation disaster ever. After the crash CAAC went through great lengths to improve air safety.

In May 1997, a China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 crashed in bad weather conditions at the Shenzen airport in southern China. killing 35 people and injuring 35.

In February 1999, a China Southwest Airlines flight crashed near the city of Wenzhou in southeast China, killing all 64 people on board. The Russian-built Tupolev TU-154 crashed while landing. According to some witnesses there was a mid-air collision before the plane crashed into a cabbage field.

20080313-trans-airport Nolls.jpg
Chinese airport in the 1980s

Air Accidents in China in the 2000s

In May 2002, a China Northern Airlines MD-82 crashed in the Yellow Sea just short of its destination, the coastal city of Dalian, killing 112 people. The crash was blamed on sabotage caused by a passenger who set a fire using gasoline in a soft drink can. Shortly before the crash the pilot radioed there was a fire in the cabin. An investigation figured out the identity of the passenger accused of starting the fire.

In April 2002, an Air China Boeing 767 slammed into a wooded, 500-meter-high mountain near Kimhae Airport in Pusan in South Korea, killing 128 of the 166 people on board. The 38 survivors were seated mostly in the front of the of plane. Fifty-four people survived. Some staggered down the mountain to get help. Fifteen died later. Before that Air China had not had a crash since 1988. See South Korea

The Boeing 767 was on its way from Beijing to Pusan. The crash occurred during poor weather and was blamed on thick fog and an unfamiliarity of the pilot with landing route. Because of strong headwinds the pilot was told to land the plane approaching the airport from the opposite side of the normal route. The plane hit the mountain while circling to the other side of the airport. The 32-year-old pilot survived. He had landed at Kimhae Airport at Pusan before but never from the opposite side. He said he felt “nothing unusual with the plane.” The owner of a shop near the crash site told Reuters: “This man, wearing a suit covered with blood and soot, hobbled into my store, covering his face. We called the 119 emergency hot line and he sat there and asked for a mirror. He saw his face and looked stunned.”

One survivor, a 27-year-old South Korean travel agency trainee, said he saw a blue flash from the window and then lost consciousness. When he came to he crawled out of the fuselage, which he told APF was like a “crushed coke can.” Even though he was bleeding from his face he spent the next two hours pulling people from the wreckage, and helped bandage them and guide them down the mountain. “I don’t know where the energy came from but I felt as if I was carrying stuff as light as a sheet of newspaper.”

In November 2004, a plane crashed into a frozen lake in northern China, killing 55 people. The China East Airlines Bombadier CRJ-200 was traveling from the northern Inner Mongolia city of Bautou to Shanghai. It crashed seconds after take off. Witnesses said they heard a huge explosion before the plane hit the ground. All 53 people on the plane and two people on the ground died.

In June 2006, a military plane crashed in Anhui Province, 200 kilometers west if Shanghai, killing 40 people. Villagers described body parts scattered over the bamboo-covered hills where the plane broke up.

Air Crashes in China in 2010

In November 2010, a Zimbabwean cargo plane crashed shortly after take off at Shanghai’s main international airport. Three crew members were killed. CCTV and Xinhua reports said the plane veered off the runway and the tail of the plane struck the ground on takeoff. The plane broke into three pieces and set a warehouse on fire.

In August 2010, a Henan Airways plane crashed and burst into flames while landing at night in foggy conditions at a small airport in Yichin in Heliongjiang Province in northeast China, killing 42 people and injuring 54, including 19 in critical condition. Reports by survivors seemed to indicate the airplane — a Brazilian-made Embraer 190 — missed the runway and crashed on the ground. Yiching is a remote town 150 kilometers from the Russian border. The accident was the worst aviation disaster in China in nearly six years.

The crash and fire were so severe that little of the fuselage of the plane remained. Eight of the victims were found 20 to 30 meters away from the wreckage in a muddy field, the pilot survived but was badly hurt and initially could not speak.

A survivor told CCTV that there was bad turbulence as the plane descended, then several big jolts that caused luggage to come crashing down from the overhead bins. “After we stopped,” he said, “the people in the back were panicking and rushed to the front. We were trying to open the [emergency exits] but they wouldn’t open. Then the smoke came in...within two or three minutes or even a minute, we couldn’t breath. I knew something bad was going to happen.” The man said he and a few other passengers escaped from a hole in the wall of the cabin near the first row of seats and ran from the burning aircraft.”

After the crash, Henan Province demanded that the airline change its name on the grounds that the accident tarnished the province’s reputation. Officials also discovered that 100 pilots who worked for the airline’s parent company had falsified their flying histories.

China Eastern Airlines Plane Crash Kills 132 People in 2022

On March 21, 2022, a China Eastern Airlines plane crashed killing all 132 people on board. The Boeing 737-800 passenger jet was flying from Kunming to Guangzhou when it plunged into a mountainous area in Guangxi, China. The plane appeared to have gone straight down, nose-first and hit the ground with such force it created a 20-meter (66-foot) deep hole in the ground, Chinese officials said. All 123 passengers and nine crew members were killed.

In May 2022, the Wall Street Journal and ABC News reported that U.S. officials concluded that China Eastern flight MU5735 is believed to have been caused by an intentional act. According to ABC News: The officials point to the plane's flaps not being engaged and landing gear not put down. The near-vertical descent of the plane, they believe, would've required intentional force. [Source: Gio Benitez, Josh Margolin and Amanda Maile, ABC News, May 18, 2022]

The first black box, the cockpit voice recorder, was found on March 23, while the flight data recorder was found on March 27. The intensity of the crash was so strong and black boxes were so badly damaged they initially produced few clues to explain what caused the violent crash. Early data showed the airliner plunged from 29,000 feet to 8,000 feet, leveled off and then went into a freefall. One video showed the plane nose-diving into the ground.

According to Reuters: Regulator ruled out a number of risks, saying the crew were qualified, the jet was properly maintained, the weather was fine and no dangerous goods were onboard. In a potentially key finding, it said most of the wreckage was concentrated in one area. Safety analysts said that would not typically happen in the event of a catastrophic mid-air break-up or explosion, but did not rule out parts being torn off in the dive after CAAC said part of one wingtip was found 12 kilometers (8 miles) away. [Source: Stella Qiu, Jamie Freed and Allison Lampert, Reuters, April 20, 2022]

Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said the last normal call from controllers to the plane was at 2:16 p.m. local time while it was cruising at 29,200 feet, less than six minutes before the plane disappeared from radar. Anthony Brickhouse, an air safety expert at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, told Reuters it had appeared the flight was progressing normally and communications were normal. "And then all of a sudden, the aircraft wasn't communicating and that's when it started diving."

The crash involved a Boeing 737-800. Associated Press reported: The crash shattered the plane and set off a fire in the surrounding forest. More than 49,000 pieces of plane debris were found. It took two days to find the cockpit voice recorder and six days for the flight data recorder, which was buried 1.5 meters (5 feet) underground. China Eastern and its subsidiaries grounded all their Boeing 737-800s — 233 planes — following the crash but returned them to service about three and half weeks after the crash. [Source: Associated Press, April 20, 2022]

Dead Stowaways and Low-on- Fuel Airline Battle over Shanghai

In August 2011, the pilot of a Juneyao Airlines flight refused six requests from Shanghai air traffic control to give way after the Qatar Airlines jet from Doha issued a "mayday" call seeking priority in landing because it was running short of fuel. Reports at the time said the aircraft came dangerously close to collision before both landed safely. The Qatar jet, among 20 circling over Shanghai's Pudong International Airport due to bad weather, made an urgent request to land at the city's other main airport, Hongqiao International. But the Juneyao Airlines pilot argued that his aircraft was also low on fuel. [Source: Elaine Kurtenbach, AP, August 30, 2011]

Aviation authorities ordered stiff punishment for the Juneyao Airlines pilot. The China Civil Aviation Administration, or CAAC, deemed the 13 incident, a "serious violation of regulations." Its investigation found that the Juneyao jet had enough fuel to stay airborne for 42 more minutes, while the Qatar jet had only enough fuel for 18 more minutes of flight, it said. The Juneyao pilot’s license was revoked.

In January 2003, two men fell from an Air France flight as it was preparing to land in Shanghai. The two men had apparently smuggled themselves aboard the plane in Paris. One body hit a house. Another landed in a field. The two men were white and were suspected of hiding in the luggage hold. Autopsy reports indicated the men had frostbite and were dead before they hit the ground. There have been many cases of Chinese trying to smuggle themselves into Western countries but not many examples of Westerners trying to smuggle themselves into China.

In July, 2007, a body was found in the nose gear a United Airlines from Shanghai after it landed in San Francisco. The man had on several layers of clothing and was an Asian in his 50s. It was assumed he was a stowaway trying to make his way to the United States. He had no visible signs of injury. It is assumed he died of lack of oxygen or hypothermia or possibly by being crushed by the nose gear.

Fires, Smoke and Severe Turbulence on Chinese Planes

In May 2022, a Tibet Airlines Airbus A319 plane caught fire after an aborted takeoff in the southwestern city of Chongqing and all passengers and crew were evacuated from the plane. Reuters reported: There were no deaths and only minor injuries among the 113 passengers and nine crew members on board, the airline said in a statement. CAAC said 36 people suffered bruises and sprains during the evacuation of flight TV9833 and were sent to local hospitals for examination. The pilots had interrupted the takeoff in line with procedures after experiencing an abnormality, CAAC said in a statement, leading to an engine scrape and fire after the plane veered off the runway. Emergency plans were activated and investigators rushed to the scene, the aviation regulator added.[Source: Reuters, May 12, 2022]

“Unverified video on social media showed a Tibet Airlines plane, a subsidiary of Air China, with heavy smoke and flames pouring from the left side of the aircraft as passengers and crew walked away. Evacuation slides, which can often cause minor injuries, were deployed, according to unverified photos on social media. The plane involved is a nine-year-old A319, one of the smallest versions of the A320 family. It is powered by CFM56 engines from CFM International, a joint venture between General Electric and Safran, according to

In June 2017, at least 26 people were injured, four of them seriously, when a China Eastern Airlines flight from Paris hit severe turbulence over southwest China. The incident happened when Flight MU744 from Charles de Gaulle Airport was descending to land at Kunming Changshui International Airport in Yunnan province, Xinhua said. AFP reported: “Passengers were treated for bone fractures, scalp lacerations and soft tissue injuries caused by falling baggage or collisions with overhead lockers, it cited local hospitals as saying. "We felt strong turbulence twice and minor turbulence three times. The process lasted about 10 minutes," the agency quoted a slightly injured passenger surnamed Zhang as saying. China Eastern Airlines said on its official microblog account that it had arranged medical services but gave no other details. "We remind all passengers, for your safety, please fasten safety belts," the post added. [Source: AFP, June 18, 2017]

In January and February in 2004, two China Southern Airlines 757 were forced to make emergency landing because of smoke in the cabin.

Hole in China Eastern Engine Cases Forces It to Turn Back

In June 2017, an China Eastern flight heading to Shanghai was forced to turn back to Sydney after a gaping hole was discovered in the casing of one of its engines. Reuters reported: The plane, an Airbus A330-200 twin jet, landed without incident and there were no injuries, said Kathy Zhang, general manager for the Oceania region at China Eastern Airlines. "The crew observed the abnormal situation of the left engine and decided to return to Sydney airport immediately. All passengers and crew members were landed safely," she said. [Source: Harry Pearl, Reuters, June 12, 2017]

“Photographs published by several Australian media outlets showed a large gash well over a meter long in the casing of the left engine. Professor Jason Middleton, an aviation expert at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said it appeared that the engine cowling had been ripped away forward of the main compressor blade. "When one of these things happens you often don't know how the damage began. It could have begun from loose screws," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp News.

“Ground-handling company Cathay Pacific had inspected the plane before take off, Zhang said. “Television station Seven News reported that passengers heard a bang shortly after Flight MU736 took off and could smell burning before the flight turned back. "We went up in the air and all of a sudden we heard this noise ... it kind of smelt like burning. Oh, I was scared. Yeah, I was really scared. Our group was terrified," one unidentified passenger told Seven News. Another passenger, identified only as Eva, said the cabin crew tried to calm passengers and told them to fasten their seatbelts after a noise was heard. "We were very panicked because we had no idea what was happening," she told Channel 9 television.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated July 2022

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