First bodies from Laos plane crash arrive in Thailand today

THAILAND - The bodies of three Thai men killed in last week's Lao Airlines plane crash near Pakse will be transferred back to Thailand today, officials have said.

The three bodies will be flown back from Laos to Bangkok by a Thai government C130 plane, which will first drop Navy frogmen at U-tapao in Rayong province. The men were killed when the plane crashed on October 16 into the Mekong River in Champasak province in Laos.

The bodies of Phakkhawat Atiratanachai, Kamueng Chartkasemchai and Veekij Busarawuthanusorn will arrive in Bangkok by 4pm, officials said yesterday.

Five Thais died in the crash, but the other two deceased have yet to be identified. Officials in Laos are still awaiting the results of DNA tests.

The five Thais were among 44 passengers and five crew on the ill-fated Lao Airlines plane, which crashed into the Mekong during stormy weather on its approach to Pakse airport.

Meanwhile, there were indications late yesterday that search teams may have picked up signals from the plane's black box, which could reveal the causes of the tragedy.

Divers were reportedly trying to retrieve the flight data recorder from an area about 400 metres from the crash site, but were battling with the strong current and muddy water. The river is thought to be about 12 to 13 metres deep in that section.

Foreign Minister Surapong Towichukchaikul said the Thai Consulate in Savannakhet, Laos, had informed him that Laos' public works and transport minister had told Thai officials to end their search for bodies yesterday, as there were just a small number to be recovered and Laotian authorities could handle that task from now on.

Department of Information chief Sek Wannamethee said Laotian officials still wanted six Thai forensic experts to stay for a few more days to help them identify the 42 bodies that have been recovered. To date, only 16 have been officially identified - two of these were the Thai bodies coming back today.

Government offices in Laos observed a minute's silence yesterday to pay tribute to the 49 people who died last week in the plane crash, state media said. The government instructed state officials to hold the event at 2.15pm, The |Vientiane Times and state-run radio reported.