'Dozens dead' in Laos plane crash

'Dozens dead' in Laos plane crash

BANGKOK - A Lao Airlines plane carrying at least 44 people, about half of them foreigners, plunged into the Mekong River in southern Laos on Wednesday in bad weather killing everybody on board, officials said.

Seven French citizens, six Australians and five Thais were among those thought to have died when the turboprop ATR-72 came down around eight kilometres (five miles) from Pakse airport in Champasak province.

Citizens from some 10 countries were reported to have been on the flight from the capital Vientiane.

"I can now confirm, according to our reports, that all 44 people on board have died, including five Thai," Thai foreign ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee told AFP.

He said there were 39 passengers and five crew on board.

The state-run Laos news agency KPL also said everyone on board was believed to have perished.

"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," it quoted a witness as saying.

State-owned Lao Airlines said the aircraft hit "extreme" bad weather and had crashed into the Mekong.

"There were no news of survivors at this time," it said, giving a slightly different figure of 44 passengers and five crew. It did not confirm the number of deaths.

France said it was rushing embassy officials to the site of the crash in Pakse, which is a hub for tourists travelling to more remote areas in southern Laos.

French President Francois Hollande learned of the disaster "with profound emotion and great sadness", according to his office.

He offered "sincere condolences" and full support to the families of the victims, it said in a statement.

According to a passenger list published by Thai media, more than half of the people onboard were foreign nationals.

They included people from Australia, South Korea, the United States, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, Canada and Malaysia, according to the document, which media said they obtained from the airline.

Australia said six of its nationals were feared dead.

"Australian consular officials are in contact with the families of those thought to be on the flight. Lao authorities have told our embassy in Vientiane they do not expect any survivors," a foreign ministry spokesman said.

An official at the South Korean embassy in Bangkok told Yonhap news agency that three South Koreans were among the victims, while China's official Xinhua news agency said two Chinese were killed.

The airline expressed its "condolences" to relatives of the passengers.

"Lao Airlines is taking all necessary steps to coordinate and dispatch all rescue units to the accident site in the hope of finding survivors and at the same time informing relative of the passengers," it said in a statement.

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