The crash and subsequent fire were so severe that little of the fuselage remained, although the charred tail was still largely intact.
Aviation officials said five of those on board were children – their fate was not immediately known.
China Central Television (CCTV) said eight of the victims were found 20-30 metres from the plane’s wreckage in a muddy field.
Chinese officials earlier reported 43 deaths because one body was torn apart in the crash and had been counted as two, according to Xinhua.
The agency said the pilot, Qi Quanjun, survived the crash but was badly hurt.
A middle-aged survivor told CCTV there was bad turbulence as the plane descended, then several big jolts that caused the luggage to come crashing down from the overhead bins.
“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 breathe.
“I knew something bad was going to happen,” the unidentified man said from a hospital bed.
|A group of government officials were also on board flying to a meeting in Yichun [AFP]|
He added that he and a few others escaped from a hole in the wall of the cabin near the first row of seats, then ran from the burning wreckage.
There were also 18 officials from China’s human resources and social security ministry, and various provincial branches, on the flight, said Xinhua.
The officials were on the way to a meeting in Yichun.
Xinhua said Sun Baoshu, the vice-minister of human resources, was in critical condition after suffering broken bones and head injuries.
Wang Xuemei, the vice-mayor of Yichun, told CCTV that of the 54 injured three were in critical condition but gave no details.
The Yichun city Communist Party published an online list of victims with 42 names, their ages ranging from 12 to 55.
The Brazilian-made Embraer E-190 jet had taken off from Heilongjiang’s capital of Harbin shortly before 9pm (13:00 GMT) and crashed a little over an hour later while landing at Yichun, about 160 kilometres from the Russian border.
A statement in Chinese on Embraer’s website said the company had sent officials to the crash scene to co-operate with the investigation.
“Embraer extends its profound condolences and wishes for recovery to the families and friends of those lost or injured in the accident,” it said.
Henan Airlines is based in the central Chinese province of the same name and flies smaller regional jets, mainly on routes in north and northeast China.
Previously known as Kunpeng Airlines, the carrier was relaunched as Henan Airlines earlier this year. It launched the Yichun-Harbin service this year.
Henan Airlines and many other regional Chinese airlines flying shorter routes have struggled in the past few years, losing passengers to high-speed railroad lines that China has aggressively expanded.
The last major passenger jet crash in China was in November 2004, when a China Eastern airplane plunged into a lake in northern China, killing all 53 on board and two on the ground.
An MD-11 cargo plane operated by Zimbabwe-based Avient Aviation crashed during takeoff from Shanghai’s main airport last November, killing three American crew members and injuring four others on board.