The government has instructed all those concerned to speed up recovery operations following the crash of the Lao Airlines plane in the country's Champassak province on Wednesday that killed all 49 people on board, including 28 foreign nationals.
As of Friday, 18 bodies had been recovered, according to Bualy Phetsongkham, head of the committee secretariat in charge of the search and rescue operation.
Relatives of a Chinese passenger and a flight attendant have confirmed the identity of two bodies recovered, while the nationalities of the remaining 16 bodies have yet to be determined, Bualy said.
The ill-fated ATR72-600 aircraft, carrying 44 passengers and five crew, departed Vientiane for Pakse on Wednesday afternoon, and plunged out of the sky a few kilometres from Pakse airport.
It is thought the plane encountered heavy wind gusts whilst coming into land, hitting the riverbank and skidding into the Mekong River in what was a high impact crash.
The Lao Airlines flight QV301 manifest listed 16 Lao nationals, seven French citizens, six Australians, five Thais, three South Koreans and three Vietnamese, as well as one person each from the US, China, Malaysia and Taiwan.
The crash, which is the worst in Lao aviation history, was the air?line's first in 14 years. The last one occurred in 1999.
Addressing a press conference in Vientiane on Friday, the government expressed profound sadness and sympathy for the families of the victims and announced there would be a nationwide one-minute's silence in tribute to those who died.
Deputy government spokesman Phetsakhone Luang-aphay told the press conference the precise cause of the tragedy was unknown. “Until the fact-finding committee gives confirmation, we won't speculate as to the cause,” he said.
He added that Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong had instructed authorities in charge to speed up rescue operations and the investigation into the crash.
An expert team from France, including engineers from the aircraft manufacturer ATR, was scheduled to arrive in Laos Saturday afternoon to help investigate the cause of the accident and find the black box that records flight data, said Lao Airlines vice president Somsamay Visounnalath.
Bodies of six more Laos’ air crash victims retrieved from river
Search teams have pulled six more bodies of air crash victims from the Mekong River in Laos, the national carrier said yesterday, taking the number 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 many kilometres from the crash site.
“Now the total found bodies are 38,” Sengpraseuth Mathouchan, the airline's vice-president, said in a statement yesterday, 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 crew were among those named so far. The airline has revised the passenger list to show a Canadian citizen was also on board when the plane went down.
According to an updated passenger list released late on Saturday, there were 16 Laotians, seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three South Koreans, two Vietnamese, and one national each from the US, Canada, Malaysia, China and Taiwan.