Experts seek lost airliner in Laos

PAKSE, Laos — Teams of French and Thai experts plied the muddy Mekong River with high-tech sonar equipment Saturday, ramping up the search for the remnants of a Lao Airlines plane and more than a dozen bodies still missing from the crash three days earlier.

On the riverbank, a group of orange-robed Buddhist monks performed a prayer ceremony for the 49 people who were aboard Lao Airlines flight QV301, all of whom are presumed to be dead.

The ATR-72 turboprop aircraft crashed Wednesday as it prepared to land in stormy weather at Pakse Airport in southern Laos. The plane then skidded into the Mekong River, the largest in Southeast Asia, and disappeared. Half of those aboard the flight were foreigners from eight different countries.

By Saturday afternoon, 36 bodies had been found and authorities were still trying to identify several of them, said Yakua Lopangkao, director-general of Laos’ Department of Civil Aviation. The ATR aircraft was delivered in March, raising questions as to why a virtually new plane crashed.

Until Saturday, the search for bodies and the plane’s flight data recorder, or black box, had been stalled by lack of manpower and equipment in the poor Southeast Asian country, which lacks capabilities in disaster management.

“We have not been able to locate the plane yet, but the teams from France and Thailand have arrived,” Yakua said. “We have split them into several teams to do simultaneous searches at two or three spots. We believe that one of these spots is where we will find the black box.”

The French and Thai teams set out on small boats Saturday to scan the water’s surface with the sonar equipment, a stark contrast to previous days of searching that included Lao villagers peering into the murky water from long-tail boats.

Thai navy scuba divers were conducting underwater searches for the flight data and voice recorders, which could help determine whether the crash was caused by human error or a technical problem. Thailand also sent a C-130 military transport plane with specialists and equipment, including several high-tech sonar systems, to locate objects on the river floor.

France’s air accident investigation agency, the BEA, said it sent four investigators to help Laos with the probe. It said the team would work with technical advisers from ATR, the French-Italian manufacturer of the aircraft.

The chief pilot has been identified as 56-year-old Young San of Cambodia, who had more than 30 years of flying experience.

Cambodia’s civil aviation security director, Mak Sam Ol, said he was briefed by Lao authorities on final instructions from the control tower.

“Due to a storm and strong winds, as the plane approached landing, the air controller told the pilot to change course,” Mak Sam Ol said. “He followed instructions, but the plane faced strong storms and couldn’t get through.”

According to the airline, 44 passengers and five crew members were on the flight. The passengers 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.

More in Local News

Food stuffs for a local chapter of A Simple Gesture at Fitness Evolution, the communal pick-up point, in Arlington on Jan. 12. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
There’s an easier way to donate to food banks

Grab a green bag, fill it gradually with grocery items — and someone will pick it up from your home.

Lake Stevens man shot by deputies reportedly was suicidal

The fatal shooting is the latest incident where someone apparently wanted police to fire.

Man suspected of robbing Rite Aids

Mill Creek police released a sketch Monday evening of the suspect.

Suspect: Marysville church fire ignited by burning shoelaces

The 21-year-old told police it was an accident, but he’s under investigation for second-degree arson.

Police seek witnesses to Marysville hit-and-run

A Seattle man suffered broken bones in the accident.

Tracking device leads police to bank robbery suspect

The man walked into a Wells Fargo around 3:15 Tuesday and told the teller he had a bomb.

Mayor, others break ground on low-barrier housing in Everett

Somers: The complex is expected to save lives and “really shows the heart of this community.”

Volunteers conduct annual count of homeless population

They worked througha standard set of questions to learn why people have ended up where they are.

Former Everett councilman also sued his employer, the county

Ron Gipson says he suffered racial discrimination related to an investigation into sexual harassment.

Most Read