Monday 20 November 2017

Australian family of four among dead in Laos air crash

Phoumalaysy Rhodes, second left, and her husband Gavin Rhodes, right, hold their children Manfred and Jadesuda, second right, near the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia
Phoumalaysy Rhodes, second left, and her husband Gavin Rhodes, right, hold their children Manfred and Jadesuda, second right, near the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia

A SYDNEY family of four and an Australian aid worker and his father were among those believed killed in a plane crash in Laos.

Relatives today released a photograph of 39-year-old tax consultant Gavin Rhodes, his 35-year-old wife Phoumalaysy Rhodes and their children Jadesuda, aged three, and 17-month-old Manfred.

They were among 49 people on a Lao Airlines plane that crashed yesterday en route from the Lao capital Vientiane to Pakse in the south.

Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said in a statement that six Australians were on board and no survivors were expected.

A passenger manifest from the airline listed five Australians and identified Jadesuda Rhodes as Lao. The Rhodes family did not immediately confirm her nationality or say whether she held dual citizenship. DFAT declined to explain the discrepancy.

The other two Australians on board were Vientiane-based Michael Creighton, 42, and his 71-year-old father Gordon Bruce Creighton, from the New South Wales state town of Glen Innes, the Creighton family said in a statement.

Michael Creighton had been an operations manager at Norwegian People's Aid's mine action programme, and lived in Laos with his fiancee, Melanie, who was not on the plane.

He had been in the Australian Defence Force and later worked for the United Nations. He spent the past 20 years doing humanitarian work, from Afghanistan to Iraq to Switzerland to Cambodia.

Gordon Creighton, a retired teacher, was visiting his son in Laos.

"We have lost a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a fiance and a best mate in one tragic circumstance and are trying to come to terms with our loss," the family said in a statement.

Rescuers in fishing boats pulled bodies from the muddy Mekong River as officials in Laos ruled out finding survivors.

Backpacks, a plane propeller and passports were among the debris scattered on the riverbank where the Lao Airlines turboprop plane apparently hit hard before skidding into the water and sinking.

"So far eight bodies have been found. We don't yet know their nationalities," said Yakao Lopangkao director general of the Department of Civil Aviation, who was at the crash site in Pakse. "We haven't found the plane yet. It is underwater. We're trying to use divers to locate it."

He ruled out any chance of finding survivors. "There is no hope. The plane appears to have crashed very hard before entering the water."

Some bodies were found as far as 12 miles 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 fishing boats and inflatable rafts plied the muddy, vast waterway as part of the search. After storms on Wednesday, the search took place under sunny blue skies.

Thailand, which borders southern Laos, was helping with the search. It sent 30 scuba divers to assist in the search for bodies, said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee.

Details of the crash remained murky. The state-run 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 airline said it had yet to determine reasons for the crash of the ATR-72 aircraft which was virtually new and had just been delivered in March. The crash occurred about four miles from the airport.

French plane maker 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.

The passenger manifest faxed by the airline listed 44 people: 17 Lao, seven French, five Australians, five Thais, three Koreans, two Vietnamese and one person each from Canada, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States.

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