Ng Han Guan/AP
BEIJING — Liu Zhihong, a young tech worker, was on a return flight after a visit to his wife, who works in a separate city. High school student Chen Huang was traveling to apply for a visa to study in the United Kingdom. Cao Kaiming’s parents were already waiting to pick him up from the airport.
They are among the 132 people aboard a China Eastern Airlines Boeing 737-800 that took off from Kunming on Monday but never arrived at its destination — the port city of Guangzhou. Instead, the plane plummeted out of the sky and crashed into a forested region of southern China.
Search and rescue teams say they have found no evidence so far of any survivors, making the crash likely China’s worst in two decades.
Authorities are still searching for clues as to why the 737 went down in China’s Guangxi’s province, plummeting 26,000 feet in just over a minute and a half, a speed that suggests the plane would have hit the ground straight on at a near-perpendicular angle.
Investigators have so far not found the onboard recorders containing data about the flight up to the moment it crashed.
“We can only decipher the last messages the plane sent when we find the black box with the voice recorder,” Sheng Hanlin, an associate professor of Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics told CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster.
Chinese leader Xi Jinping ordered a full-out investigation on Monday night, led by the country’s vice premier, Liu He and Wang Yong, a high-ranking member of the country’s cabinet, the State Council.
Livestream footage from the crash site show the rural hillside still littered with debris from the plane, which disintegrated on impact. Local residents have been finding sheets of torn fuselage and luggage items strewn across the tropical forest.
The last time passenger jetliner to crash in China was a Henan Airlines Embraer E-190 in 2010. Forty-four of 96 aboard were killed.
Yellow tape marks bullet holes on a tree and a portrait and flowers create a makeshift mem…