When the Lao Airlines flight QV301 from Vientiane to Pakse, which was about to land, crashed into the Mekong River, it was unimaginable to grasp the horror. During one of the heaviest rainy seasons the country has ever witnessed, mass flooding has already taken a toll across southern Laos and now with Typhoon Nari making its way over bordering neighbors, it has been a devastating time for Laos.
As some locals gathered around the crash site, they gave their blessings with bundles of marigolds and candles from their Buddhist temples. Some looked on in silence. Some were on their cell phones to figure out if their loved ones were on board. Many were simply in shock.
There were five Lao crew members, 16 Lao passengers, seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three Koreans, two Vietnamese, an American, a Canadian, a Chinese, a Malaysian and one Taiwanese– all feared dead. Many were also well-known community members who worked in NGOs and local businesses. With passengers from around the world, embassies and their teams have been dispatched to the scene and have been working with local police to search for missing passengers.
Amid a submerged plane in a fast-flowing river, it’s been extremely challenging to find the bodies. According to current reports, only an estimated 10 bodies have been found so far.
“In a country as small as Laos, a crash like this is really devastating. One American man, who was well-known to many of us, was killed. Based on everything we’re hearing – the weather was the major contributing factor”, said a western diplomat in Laos. “My consular team spent all day and evening at the crash site. Lao and Thai infrastructure is over-stretched. Recovery of remains will be very challenging”, they continued.
The plane was a new ATR twin-engine turboprop aircraft which was delivered in March 2013. Founded in 1976, Lao Airlines operates in Korea, China, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Singapore. So far, Laos has had 29 fatal air accidents since the 1950s, according to the Aviation Safety Network, whose data also showed that the country’s safety record had improved dramatically in the last decade. The last plane crash was in October 2000 when eight people died in northern Laos.
More details and updates to follow as the investigation and search continues. LLOTP extends our sincere condolences and sends our thoughts to the friends and families of the passengers.
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UPDATE 10/22/13: 30 bodies have been found.