PAKSE, Laos - Lao Airlines on Saturday said it had identified almost half of the 32 bodies so far recovered after a plane carrying dozens of people, many of them foreign travellers, plunged into the Mekong River.
In the country's deadliest known air disaster, all those on board died when the Lao Airlines turboprop ATR-72 plunged into the swollen waters in stormy weather on Wednesday near Pakse airport in Champasak province.
More than half of the 49 passengers and crew were foreigners from 10 countries.
Lao Airlines said that its team, in cooperation with Thai rescuers, investigators from the French-Italian aircraft manufacturer and local authorities, had identified 14 of the 32 bodies found so far.
Two Australian passengers, the Cambodian captain and several members of the crew were among those named so far.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families affected by this terrible tragedy," the carrier said in a statement.
Volunteers have battled strong currents in their search for bodies from the plane, most of which has sunk and is believed to have broken up.
In some cases, rescue teams have plucked the dead from turbulent waters many miles from the crash site.
A Chinese temple in Pakse has been turned into a makeshift autopsy centre, with experts flown in from around the world to help.
Jong-Pil Park, from South Korea's national forensic department, said the crash was a huge challenge for impoverished Laos, with the damage to the bodies creating further hurdles in identification.
"They need to analyse DNA samples, finger prints and dental (records). They need to solve by cooperating with many countries," he told AFP.
He said it could take up to two weeks to finish conducting the autopsies.
In an updated statement late Saturday, Lao Airlines said some of the bodies had been returned to their families, including the Cambodian pilot, whose body was flown back to Phnom Penh.