Lao Airlines plane crashes into Mekong River, killing all 49 on board

Bad weather blamed for crash involving flight from Vientiane as it prepared to land at Pakse in southern Laos, with no survivors reported

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 October, 2013, 9:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 8:34am


A Lao Airlines plane flying from the Laos capital Vientiane to the southern town of Pakse crashed into the Mekong River yesterday killing all 49 on board.

At least seven French citizens, six Australians and five Thais were among those who died when the plane carrying 44 passengers and five crew went down eight kilometres from the airport in Champasak province in southern Laos. Earlier reports had said there were 39 passengers on board.

One Chinese national and one Taiwanese were also among those killed, CCTV said the Chinese embassy had confirmed. The Bangkok Post listed them as Rui Gan and Chang Yu Liu respectively.

Pakse is a hub for tourists travelling to more remote areas in southern Laos.

The Ministry of Public Works and Transport, which operates the airline as a state enterprise, said: "Upon preparing to land at Pakse Airport, the aircraft ran into extremely bad weather conditions and reportedly crashed into the Mekong River."

It said there was no word of survivors. The airline flies an ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop plane on the 467-kilometre route.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said his country's embassy in Vientiane was informed that the plane crashed about 8 kilometres from the airport at Pakse.

"I can now confirm, according to our reports, that all 44 people on board have died, including five Thai," Sek said.

Pictures on Thai television showed a small plane, half submerged in the river, with bodies lying on the banks.

The South Korean embassy in Bangkok told Yonhap news agency that three South Koreans were also among the dead.

State-owned Lao Airlines confirmed the crash in a statement on its official Facebook page, in which it expressed "our condolences to family, friends, colleagues and relatives" of the passengers.

It said the aircraft hit "extreme" bad weather and had crashed into the Mekong River.

"Lao Airlines is taking all necessary steps to co-ordinate 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," the statement said.

The QV301 flight set off from Vientiane on time at 2.45pm and was supposed to arrive in Paske just over an hour later, but crashed as it prepared to land.

A spokesman from aircraft manufacturer ATR in France confirmed the crash and said that the flight was one of its twin-engine turboprop ATR-72 planes.

He said Lao Airlines had a fleet of six ATR-72 planes.

Founded in 1976, the carrier operates a fleet of ATR-72 turboprop, Airbus A320 and Chinese-made MA60 planes, serving domestic airports and destinations in China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, according to its website.

It has a chequered safety record. The country has had 29 fatal air accidents since the 1950s, according to the Aviation Safety Network, but data showed the country's safety record has improved dramatically in the last decade. The last fatal accident was in October 2000 when eight people died in acrash in the country's northeast.

Additional reporting by Associated Press