October 17, 2013 10:33:13 am
Rescuers searched for bodies today after a Laos Airlines plane carrying dozens of people,about half of them foreigners,crashed in the Mekong River with everybody on board believed dead.
Seven French citizens,six Australians and five Thais were among those thought to have been killed when the turboprop ATR-72 came down yesterday near Pakse airport in Champasak province.
“The search and rescue is still going on in Pakse,” Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee told AFP.
“The search teams in Laos are taking the bodies to a local hospital.”
Citizens from some 10 countries were reported to have been on the flight from the capital Vientiane.
The state-run Laos news agency KPL said all 47 passengers were believed to have perished.
“The plane was about to land but appeared to be hit by a strong wind,causing its head to ascend and pushing it away from the airport area and out of reach of the air traffic control radar,” it quoted a witness as saying.
State-owned Lao Airlines said the aircraft hit “extreme” bad weather and had crashed into the Mekong with “no news of survivors at this time”.
It gave a slightly different figure of 44 passengers and five crew and did not confirm the number of deaths.
France said it was rushing embassy officials to the site of the crash in Pakse,which is a hub for tourists travelling to more remote areas in southern Laos.
French President Francois Hollande learned of the disaster “with profound emotion and great sadness” and offered “sincere condolences” and full support to the victims’ families,his office said in a statement.
According to a passenger list published by Thai media,more than half of the people onboard were foreign nationals.
They also included people from the United States,Vietnam,Canada and Malaysia,according to the document,which media said they obtained from the airline.
Australia said six of its nationals were feared dead,including a family of four.
“Australian consular officials are in contact with the families of those thought to be on the flight. Lao authorities have told our embassy in Vientiane they do not expect any survivors,” a foreign ministry spokesperson said,adding that recovery and identification “may take some time”.
Thailand said five of its nationals had died.
Three South Koreans were also among the victims,according to the Transport Ministry in Seoul.
The airline expressed its “condolences” to relatives of the passengers.
“Lao Airlines is taking all necessary steps to coordinate and dispatch all rescue units to the accident site in the hope of finding survivors and at the same time informing relatives of the passengers,” it said in a statement.
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