Laos plane crash: Foreign assistance called in as authorities struggle to find victims' bodies

More than 20 bodies remain unaccounted for following crash in the Mekong river

Asia Correspondent

The authorities in Laos are struggling to locate the fuselage of a downed plane and more than 20 bodies still unaccounted for following a crash earlier this week when an aircraft crashed in the Mekong river in bad weather.

Experts from a number of other countries are on their way to the south-east Asian country to offer assistance after officials there expressed frustration over their inability to locate the wreckage and the missing bodies.

“It’s very difficult to find [bodies] under water,” Lao’s transport minister, Sommad Pholsena, told reporters, according to the Associated Press. “If we could find [the plane], we would have found it already.”

By Friday afternoon, 27 bodies had been recovered from the river. But rescue workers had still been unable to find the wreckage containing the flight data recorder. That will be crucial to understanding why the virtually new Lao Airlines ATR-72 turboprop crashed.

The crash happened on Wednesday afternoon as the plane prepared to land in stormy weather at Pakse airport in southern Laos. All 49 people on board, more than half of whom were foreigners, are presumed dead. The plane had set off from Vientiane, the capital.

Experts from France, Singapore and Thailand are expected to arrive in Laos over the coming days to help with forensics and locating the flight data recorder.

Witnesses interviewed on LTV, Lao national television, described a heavy storm and dark skies when the accident happened at around 4pm. One man said he heard a thundering noise overhead and looked up to see a plane shaking violently as it flew through the tops of trees. “It looked like it was bouncing in the sky,” he said. “Then the plane came lower and lower. Then there was an explosion and ‘Boom’.”

The plane is believed to have then skidded from land into the water and sunk. According to the airline, 44 passengers and five crew were on the flight. The passengers included 16 Lao nationals, seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three Koreans, three Vietnamese and one person each from China, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States.

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