Laos struggles to deal with fatal plane crash

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PAKSE, Laos -- Rescuers in fishing boats pulled bodies Thursday from the muddy Mekong River, as Laos officials ruled out finding survivors from a plane that crashed in stormy weather, killing 49 people from 10 nations.

Backpacks, two broken propellers and passports were among debris scattered on the riverbank where the Lao Airlines turboprop plane left deep skid marks in the ground before disappearing into the water Wednesday.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said search teams had recovered the bodies of 15 crash victims by the time their operations ended Thursday because of darkness and the strong current. He said they were unable to immediately identify them. The government's last official count of bodies retrieved gave a lower number, nine.

Thailand, which lost five nationals in the crash, is deeply involved in the search, providing skilled manpower and technology that its poorer neighbor lacks.

Yakao Lopangkao, director-general of Lao's Department of Civil Aviation, who was at the crash site in Pakse, in southern Laos, ruled out finding survivors. "There is no hope," he said. "The plane appears to have crashed very hard before entering the water."

He said the plane's fuselage had not yet been found, but was underwater, and divers were trying to locate it. Fishermen found some bodies floating downstream as far as 12 miles from the crash site, Mr. Lopangkao said.

State-run Lao Airlines on Thursday released a second, updated list of the 44 passengers' nationalities: 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. A person who had been listed as Canadian instead was relisted as Vietnamese. The passengers included foreign tourists and expatriates working in Laos.

American Joel Babcock, from Nebraska, and his wife, Angelin, of Malaysia were among the dead, the man's pastor, the Rev. Glen Wapelhorst said. He said Mr. Babcock moved from Nebraska to Laos with his family as a young boy, but had lived in Lincoln and attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln from 2007 until 2010, before moving back to Laos.

Details of the crash remained murky. Lao Airlines said in a statement Wednesday that the plane took off from the capital, Vientiane, and "ran into extreme bad weather conditions" as it prepared to land at Pakse Airport. The crash occurred about 4 miles from the airport.

The airline said it had yet to determine the cause of the crash of the ATR-72 aircraft, which had been delivered in March.


First Published October 17, 2013 8:00 PM


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