A military plane carrying senior Laotian government officials crashed yesterday in a wooded area as it approached an airport in the country's northeast.
At least five people were killed, including the defence and public security ministers and other high-ranking members of the ruling Communist Party.
Laotian National Television showed video of the mangled wreckage of the plane, with smoke rising from its badly charred remains. The footage showed rescuers pulling away pieces of debris and trying to dig into the remains of the fuselage with shovels.
Some 18 people were believed to be on board the plane, which left Vientiane early yesterday to take the group to a ceremony in Xiangkhouang province.
Among those confirmed killed in the crash were defence minister Douangchay Phichit and his wife, said Nipat Thonglek, the Thai Defence Ministry's permanent secretary.
Phichit was also one of Laos' deputy prime ministers and a high-ranking member of its Politburo, the main decision-making body for the Communist Party, which has ruled the single-party state since 1975.
Others killed in the crash included public security minister Thongbane Sengaphone, Vientiane governor Sukhan Mahalad and at least one other senior ruling-party official, said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee. He said he was given the information by authorities in neighbouring Laos  who did not immediately release details about the other passengers.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the accident occurred as the plane, a Russian-built Antonov AN-74, was approaching Xiangkhouang's airport, Sek said. The airport is not far from one of Laos' major archaeological sites and tourist attractions, the Plain of Jars. The province borders northwestern Vietnam.
A witness at the crash site said the plane went down near Nadee village, just 2km from the airport. He had heard that three were reported to have survived, but that has not been confirmed officially.
One report said the crash site was in a mountainous area and the weather was clear at the time of the accident. The army has taken control of the area.
Laos has had 30 fatal air accidents since the 1950s, according to the Aviation Safety Network.
Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters