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Laos Plane Crash: 49 Presumed Dead, Dangerous Hunt for Survivors

By Michael Mullins   |   Thursday, 17 Oct 2013 10:13 AM

A plane crash in Laos Wednesday has left all 49 of its passengers presumed dead, after plunging into the Mekong River reportedly due to an encounter with a "wind shear," an airline official said.

On Thursday, rescuers attempted to search the area for bodies after the previous day's severe stormy weather had submerged the plane, sinking it to the bottom of the river, France's AFP news service reported.

"It's difficult to dive because there is a strong current and it's dangerous. So I think it's 50/50 that we will find something," 20-year-old Thai rescue diver Aniwat Plaeng-ngaan told the AFP.

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Approximately 10 rescue boats were reportedly at the scene on Thursday to assist with the recovery effort.

The Lao Airlines plane was carrying 44 passengers and five crew members at the time of the crash.

The passengers were primarily foreigners, with seven of which being France, six Australian, five Thai, three South Koreans, and two Vietnamese. There was also one American, Canadian, Chinese, Malaysian and Taiwanese on board when the plane went down, CNN reported

Sixteen Laotian passengers were also onboard when the plane crashed.

"I heard a boom! A sound like a bomb going off. There was smoke and flames before it crashed," local village chief Buasorn Kornthong told the AFP.

The propeller plane was traveling from Laos' capital of Vientiane and was apparently in the process of landing at a nearby airport when a strong gust of wind blew it off course and into the Mekong River, CNN reported.

"The plane was about to land but appeared to be hit by a strong wind, causing its head to ascend and pushing it away from the airport area and out of reach of the air traffic control radar," state-run Laos news agency KPL quoted a witness as saying.

The plane's pilot had "many years" of flying experience, according to Cambodia's civil aviation office, the AFP reported.

Lao Airlines CEO Somphone Doungdara confirmed on Thursday that the company was working closely with authorities to determine the cause of the crash, adding "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this terrible tragedy."

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Lao Airlines was founded in 1976 and primarily services domestic travelers with destinations in China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Since 1950, Laos has had 29 fatal air accidents, according to the Aviation Safety Network, the AFP noted.

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