17 bodies found after Laos air disaster: minister

17 bodies found after Laos air disaster: minister
Villagers look at debris and luggage retrieved from the crash site of an ATR-72 turboprop plane, in Laos, near Pakse October 17, 2013.

PAKSE, Laos - Laos on Friday said rescuers had recovered at least 17 bodies after a plane plunged into the Mekong River in the country's worst air disaster, with one corpse found miles downstream from the crash site.

All those on board the plane died when the Lao Airlines turboprop ATR-72 went down in stormy weather on Wednesday.

Of the forty-nine passengers and crew, more than half of them were foreigners from nearly a dozen countries.

Volunteers searched the river on boats of all sizes, mustered for the grim task of plucking the dead from the turbulent waters and its muddy banks.

The aircraft sank to the bottom of the river. Rescuers said that recovering the wreckage would be an extremely difficult task, complicated by raging currents.

Soubinh Keophet, a former national footballer and volunteer with a Laos rescue foundation, said one body was discovered as far as 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the crash site.

"We travelled 50 kilometres (31 miles) along the river and found four bodies," he said, after he pulled a recently discovered limb from the water.

"Although they know the location of the crash, they still can't find the main body of the plane because it has broken up into small parts and spread everywhere and the current is very strong," he added.

A witness recounted a desperate attempt to rescue passengers after the plane dived nose first into the river.

"The front of the plane went under but the tail was still floating. There was smoke coming out," Pham Quang Nhat told Vietnam's Tuoi Tre newspaper.

"We waited to be sure the plane would not explode then some people used boats to approach the plane, climbing on the wings hoping to find survivors.

But we couldn't get inside," the Vietnamese worker said.

Sommad Pholsena, Laos minister of public works and transport, told reporters that 17 bodies had been found so far.

"We have to investigate about the cause of the accident but initially I think it was caused by bad weather," he said.

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