Rescuers in fishing boats pulled bodies from the muddy Mekong River on Thursday as officials in Laos ruled out finding survivors from a plane that crashed in stormy weather, killing 49 people from 10 countries.
Backpacks, two broken propellers and passports were among the debris scattered on the riverbank where the Lao Airlines turboprop plane left deep skid marks in the ground before disappearing into the water Wednesday.
Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said search teams had recovered the bodies of 15 crash victims by the time their operations ended Thursday because of darkness and the strong current. He said they were unable to identify them immediately. The last official count issued by Laos of bodies retrieved gave a lower number, nine.
Thailand, which lost five nationals in the crash, is deeply involved in the search, providing skilled manpower and technology that its poorer neighbor lacks.
Yakao Lopangkao, director-general of Lao’s Department of Civil Aviation, who was at the crash site in Pakse in southern Laos, ruled out finding survivors.
“There is no hope,” he said. “The plane appears to have crashed very hard before entering the water.”
He said the plane’s fuselage had not yet been found but was underwater, and divers were trying to locate it.
Some of the bodies were found by fishermen floating downstream as far as 12 miles from the crash site, he said.
“We have asked villagers and people who live along the river to look for bodies and alert authorities when they see anything,” he said.
State-run Lao Airlines released a second updated list of the 44 passengers’ nationalities Thursday.
It said the flight included 16 Lao nationals, seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three Koreans, three Vietnamese and one person each from China, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States.