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WUZHOU: Rescuers combed heavily forested mountain slopes in southern China on Tuesday, using shovels and torches in their hunt for victims and flight recorders from a China Eastern Airlines jet that crashed with 132 people on board.

About 600 soldiers, firefighters and police marched to the crash site, a patch of about 1 sq km in a location hemmed in by mountains on three sides, after excavators cleared a path, state television said.

It added that the search for the recorders, or “black boxes”, of the Boeing 737-800 involved in China’s first crash of a commercial jetliner since 2010, would be carried out in grid-by-grid fashion, probably through the night.

Flight MU5735 was headed on Monday for the port city of Guangzhou from Kunming, capital of the southwestern province of Yunnan, when it plunged from cruising altitude to crash in the mountains of Guangxi less than an hour before landing time.

A jet appeared to dive to the ground at an angle of about 35 degrees from the vertical in video images from a vehicle’s dashboard camera, according to Chinese media. Reuters could not immediately verify the footage.

Si, 64, a villager near the crash site who declined to give his first name, told Reuters he heard a “bang, bang” at the time of the crash.

“It was like thunder,” he said.

State media called the situation grim, saying the possibility of the deaths of all aboard could not be ruled out.

State television has shown images of plane debris strewn among trees charred by fire. Burnt remains of identity cards and wallets were also seen.

Rain was forecast in the area this week.

Police set up a checkpoint at Lu village, on the approach to the site, and barred journalists from entering. Several people gathered for a small Buddhist ceremony nearby to pray for the victims.

ABRUPT DESCENT

A investigation team sent by the State Council, or cabinet, will give details of the search and rescue effort and the hunt for the black boxes at a news conference on Tuesday evening.

The last commercial jetliner to crash in China was in 2010, when an Embraer E-190 regional jet flown by Henan Airlines went down, killing 44 of the 96 aboard.

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