49 killed as Laos airliner crashes
Published 17/10/2013 | 13:51
Rescuers in fishing boats pulled bodies from the muddy Mekong River in Laos after a plane crashed in stormy weather, killing 49 people from 11 countries.
Officials ruled out finding any survivors.
Backpacks, two broken aircraft propellers and passports were among the debris scattered on the riverbank where the Lao Airlines turboprop plane left deep skid marks in the ground before disappearing into the water on Wednesday.
"We have found nine bodies so far. At this point we don't know their nationalities," said Yakao Lopangkao, director-general of Lao's Department of Civil Aviation, who was at the crash site in Pakse in southern Laos on Thursday. "We haven't found the plane yet. It is underwater. We're trying to use divers to locate it."
He said: "There is no hope (of finding survivors). The plane appears to have crashed very hard before entering the water."
Some of the bodies were found by fishermen floating downstream as far as 12 miles (20 kms) from the crash site, he said.
"We have asked villagers and people who live along the river to look for bodies and alert authorities when they see anything," he said.
Fleets of small boats and inflatable rafts plied the muddy, vast waterway as part of the search, with men in life vests peering into the water. After storms on Wednesday, the search took place under sunny blue skies.
Thailand, which borders Laos, sent 30 scuba divers to help in the search for bodies.
State-run Lao Airlines released an updated list of the 44 passengers' nationalities on Thursday. It said the flight included 16 Lao nationals, seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three Koreans, two Vietnamese and one person each from Canada, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States.
The area is off the main tourist circuit in Laos but known for its remote Buddhist temples, nature treks and waterfalls.
Cambodian authorities said one of the plane's pilots was a 56-year-old Cambodian with more than 30 years' flying experience.
Details of the crash remained murky. Lao Airlines said in a statement that the plane took off from the capital, Vientiane, and "ran into extreme bad weather conditions" as it prepared to land at Pakse Airport. The crash occurred about four miles (seven kms) from the airport.
The airline said it had yet to determine the cause of the crash of the ATR-72 aircraft, which had just been delivered in March.
French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR said in a statement that "the circumstances of the accident are still being determined." It said that it will assist in the investigation which will be led by Lao authorities.
It was the first fatal crash for Laos' state carrier since 2000, when two separate crashes left 23 people dead.
The ATR-72 has been involved in 16 crashes since it went into service in 1988, according to databases kept by the Flight Safety Foundation and the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives.
Among the six Australians on board was a family of four. Relatives released a photo of the family, Gavin and Phoumalaysy Rhodes and their two children, a three-year-old girl and a 17-month-old boy.
The other two Australians were a father and son. They were identified as Michael Creighton, a 42-year-old aid worker based in Laos who had worked for the United Nations, and his father, Gordon Creighton, 71, a retired teacher who was visiting his son.
"We have lost a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a fiance and a best mate in one tragic circumstance and we are trying to come to terms with our loss," the family said in a statement. Michael Creighton was living in Laos with his fiancee, who was not on the plane.
Lao Airlines was founded in 1976 after the communist takeover of Laos, operating under the name Lao Aviation until a rebranding in 2003.