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Recovery effort underway after Lao Airlines plane crash

Lao authorities and Lao Airlines officials are putting every effort into the recovery operation after flight QV301 went down in Champassak province on Wednesday afternoon, retrieving the bodies of the victims and the wreckage of the plane from the Mekong River.

A team of divers continues the search at the crash site in the Mekong River. --Photo Champa Mai

Lao Airlines officials said at 9am yesterday they believed there were no survivors of the fatal plane crash, which occurred just outside Pakxe.

Flight QV301 departed Vientiane for Pakxe at 2:45pm on Wednesday and crashed just over an hour later while approaching Pakxe airport for landing, after running into bad weather in the wake of Tropical Storm Nari.

All 49 passengers and crew on board are believed to have died after the plane plunged into the Mekong River near Phaling village in Phonthong district, in what is thought to have been a high impact crash.

Lao Airlines President and CEO Dr Somphone Doungdara addressed the media yesterday, expressing his deepest sympathies to the families and friends of those who died in the tragic accident.

“We have organised response teams and are focusing on rescuing the bodies of the dead. We are also notifying the relatives of the deceased and liaising with consular officials,” Dr Somphone said.

“We will provide all necessary assistance and support to the families of the victims. Their funeral costs and other expenses will be met by Lao Airlines and our insurers.”

Dr Somphone said the precise cause of the crash remains unknown and the exact number of those who died is also uncertain despite the fact that the flight manifest details are available, because recovery operations are still underway.

“Our taskforce is working with provincial and local authorities to speed up the search for the victims. An investigation is currently underway into the exact cause of the accident and the findings will be made available as soon as possible,” he said.

Director General of the Department of Civil Aviation, Mr Yakua Lopangkao, was on hand to oversee the recovery efforts yesterday. He reported that Lao and Thai divers were using drop lines to locate the wreckage of the plane.

However he explained that at this point the Mekong is quite deep and fast flowing after recent heavy rains, which will make the recovery operation more difficult.

Mr Yakua reported that four bodies were recovered near the scene on Wednesday, and as of 3pm yesterday they had recovered another nine, bringing the total to 13.

Vice President of Lao Airlines' Technical and Flight Operations, Mr Somsamay Visounnarath, told Vientiane Times that concurrent with the recovery of the bodies of the victims, a search for the wreckage involving 50 Thai frogmen is underway.

He was unable to confirm any further details of the plane wreckage at this point in time.

Airline President Dr Somphone said the captain of the plane was a Cambodian pilot with many hours of flight experience. He said all indicators so far suggest that freak weather conditions were to blame, rather than a technical fault or pilot error.

The ATR72-600 aircraft had been newly purchased from France earlier in the year. It had recorded only 758 flight hours since it was put into service on March 28.

Dr Somphone said the airline employs highly qualified pilots and technicians and has a good safety record, this being the first accident in 14 years after the last one occurred in 1999.

According to the flight manifest, there were two pilots, two flight attendants, one engineer and 44 passengers on board the plane when it departed Vientiane.

The manifest listed 16 Lao nationals, seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three South Koreans and two Vietnamese, as well as an American, a Canadian, a Chinese national, a Malaysian and one person from Taiwan.

Australian media reported that among the dead were two children, the daughter and baby son of an Australian tax agent and his wife, who was of Lao origin.

The bodies that have been recovered are currently lying in rest at Vat Chin temple in Pakxe district, awaiting funeral arrangements by relatives.

Insurance company representatives will arrive in Vientiane today from London.

Lao Airlines flights are operating as usual and a plane departed for Pakxe yesterday morning. Dr Somphone stressed that no flights will depart unless weather conditions at the destination are deemed to be safe.

By Somsack Pongkhao
(Latest Update October 18, 2013)


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