After a China Eastern Airlines passenger jet carrying 132 people crashed into a mountainside in the southern Chinese region of Guangxi on March 21, 2022, a video circulated in news reports and social media posts that claimed it shows smoke billowing from the crashed airliner. But a government spokesperson in eastern China's Shanghang county -- about 500 miles from the crash site -- said the video actually shows a hillside fire that broke out one day before the China Eastern jet tragedy. A man living in Shanghang county separately told AFP the video contains bystanders discussing a fire caused by a "careless" tomb sweeper, and shared evidence that it circulated before the jet crash.
"The crash site of the China Eastern Airlines plane," reads this tweet written in simplified Chinese-language on March 21, 2022.
It has been viewed more than 8,000 times.
The 51-second video shows smoke billowing from a fire on a hillside.
Several people can be heard speaking in the background.
The video circulated online as aviation authorities in China tried to determine why a China Eastern Boeing 737-800 nosedived into a mountainside near Wuzhou in southern China's Guangxi region on March 21.
A black box from the crashed jet was recovered on March 23, but no survivors were found as investigators scoured the rugged terrain for clues.
But the video has been shared in a misleading context.
Keyword searches found this report by Chinese newspaper Modern Express Post that states the video shows a fire near Longyan, a city in Fujian province, some 500 miles (800 kilometres) away from the crash site in Wuzhou.
A government spokesperson for Longyan's Shanghang county told AFP the video shows a hillside fire in a local village on March 20.
"The online video does not show the plane crash incident, it actually shows a hill fire on March 20 from a village in Guanzhuang She Nationality township, Shanghang county," the spokesperson said.
The fire was caused by tomb-sweeping -- a custom of cleaning ancestors' graves that involves burning joss sticks or paper offerings -- according to the government spokesperson.
AFP located a man surnamed Lin, who said he lives in a township close to the site of the blaze in Longpai village.
He sent an earlier version of the video along with a screenshot of the clip being shared in a local community WeChat group on March 20.
It can be seen below with the timestamp highlighted in red by AFP:
Below are two screenshot comparisons of the video in the misleading posts (left) and the video shared on WeChat on March 20 (right):
AFP located the village here on Baidu maps. It shows a similar hilly terrain to the area shown in the video.
Lin told AFP that the people heard speaking in the video were using his local Hakka dialect.
According to a transcript he provided to AFP, one of the speakers appears to blame the fire on someone being "careless" while tomb sweeping.
He translated one woman's comments as: "The fire is so strong! That person who went there for tomb sweeping is really a disaster. [They are] so careless [to have caused the fire]!"
AFP debunked other posts here that falsely claimed to show the final moments of the China Eastern Airlines jet.
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