Bodies of six more Laos air crash victims retrieved from Mekong River

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 5:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 October, 2013, 5:39pm

Search teams have pulled six more bodies of air crash victims from the Mekong River in Laos, the national carrier said on Sunday, taking the number of corpses recovered to 38.

In the nation’s worst known air disaster, all passengers and crew on the Lao Airlines turboprop ATR-72 died after the plane plunged into the river in bad weather on Wednesday near Pakse airport in Champasak province.

More than half of the 49 passengers and crew were foreigners from some 10 countries.

Search teams from neighbouring Thailand have been scouring the river for bodies along with experts from the airline and the French-Italian aircraft maker.

But they have been hampered by strong currents which have swept some bodies several kilometres away from the crash site.

“Now the total found bodies are 38,” Sengpraseuth Mathouchan, the airline’s vice-president, said in a statement on Sunday, after six more bodies were found overnight.

“Lao forensic teams and experts from Thailand are continuing to identify” the bodies, he said, adding “our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this terrible tragedy”.

On Saturday the airline said it had identified 14 of the 32 bodies hauled from the river by that point.

Two Australian passengers, the Cambodian captain and several members of the crew were among those named so far.

The airline has revised the passenger list to show that a Canadian citizen was also on board when the plane went down.

According to an updated passenger list released late on Saturday by the airline, there were 16 Laotians, seven French travellers, six Australians, five Thais, three South Koreans, two Vietnamese, and one national each from the United States, Canada, Malaysia, China and Taiwan.

There were also five crew, including the Cambodian captain.

Volunteers have fought strong currents in the painstaking search for bodies from the plane, most of which has sunk and is believed to have broken up.

In some cases, rescue teams have plucked the dead from turbulent waters many miles from the crash site.

Founded in 1976, Lao Airlines serves domestic airports and destinations in China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Impoverished Laos, a one-party communist state, has seen 29 fatal air accidents since the 1950s, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

In 2010 the United Nations’ air safety arm, the International Civil Aviation Organisation, found Laos was just above the world average for all factors except airworthiness and operations, which were recorded as marginally below global norms.

Previously the country’s worst air disaster was in 1954 when 47 people died in an Air Vietnam crash near Pakse, the organisation said.