Rescuers pull bodies from Thai swamp

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The Independent Online
USING BARE hands and bulldozers to sift through a flooded rubber plantation in southern Thailand, rescuers recovered 100 bodies from the wreckage of a Thai Airways Airbus yesterday before suspending their search at nightfall.

One person was still missing, presumed dead. Forty-six people, including 12 foreigners, survived the Friday night accident.

Resources were so stretched that Surat Thani airport, where the Airbus A310-200 crashed, became a makeshift mortuary. Emergency workers opened body bags for identification in view of passengers queueing for flights. The bodies had been brought to the baggage carousel for transport to Bangkok.

Relatives and friends of passengers on the doomed flight, arriving from Bangkok to identify victims or visit survivors, were confronted with the sight of reeking hand luggage recovered from the wreckage. Many broke into tears.

Two Britons have been confirmed dead: Phil Beasley, who lived in Thailand, and Mark Graham, who lived in the US. A British survivor, David Wilson, was in hospital with facial injuries.

Thai Airways flight TG261 plunged into a swamp just yards from the airstrip in a heavy rainstorm and burst into flames on its third attempt to land at Surat Thani, a travel hub for vacation resorts 330 miles south- west of Bangkok.

Many of the dead were believed to have drowned in the waist-high swamp water while trapped in the wreckage. Others were burned beyond recognition.

A flight attendant, Akradej Pudemha, said that as the plane shook, some passengers panicked. "People started screaming. They wouldn't stay in their seats. They were thrown around by the shaking and luggage was flying everywhere," he said. Mr Akradej, who helped rescue 10 passengers, said most of the survivors were seated at the front.

"I don't remember hitting the ground, just people screaming and being in half a plane," Lucinda Rhodes, a 24-year-old Sydney accountant, said from a hospital bed. Another Australian, Melanie McNamee, said Ms Rhodes saved her life. "She was dragging me along. I could barely walk because I'd fractured three ribs and also fractured my spine. We were running through the swamp just trying to get away from the airplane before it blew up."

The flight recorder has been recovered and investigators from Airbus are going to the scene.