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Laos recovers crashed plane black boxes

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Search teams on Thursday recovered the flight data recorders of a Lao Airlines plane that plunged into the Mekong River in bad weather killing all 49 people on board, officials said.

The black boxes, which include both voice and data recordings, were found early Thursday as part of efforts to recover parts of the stricken craft from the river's fast-flowing waters, according to Yakua Lopankao, director general of Laos' Department of Civil Aviation.

"It has not yet been decided where to send them to be examined, it is up to the air accident investigation committee," he said of the operation, which has been assisted by experts from the French aviation safety agency BEA.

The Lao Airlines turboprop ATR-72 plummeted into the Mekong as it went to land in the southern town of Pakse on October 16 in the country's worst air disaster.

More than half of the 49 passengers and crew were foreigners from some 10 countries.

So far 47 bodies have been recovered, some many kilometres downstream from the crash site as rescuers battled strong currents along the swollen river.

So far, at least 43 of the victims have been identified, according to a Lao Airlines statement on Wednesday.

"Our efforts remain focused on caring for the bereaved families of the victims and doing what we can to alleviate the trauma they are suffering and assist them as much as possible at this difficult time," it said.

The carrier has said the aircraft hit "extreme" bad weather, while witnesses described seeing the plane buffeted by strong winds before plummeting into the Mekong.

According to a passenger list released by the airline, there were 16 Laotians, seven French travellers, six Australians, five Thais, three South Koreans, two Vietnamese, and one national each from the United States, Canada, Malaysia, China and Taiwan.

There were also five crew, including the Cambodian captain.

Founded in 1976, Lao Airlines serves domestic airports and destinations in China, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Impoverished Laos, a one-party communist state, has seen 29 fatal air accidents since the 1950s, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

Previously the country's worst air disaster was in 1954, when 47 people died in an Air Vietnam crash near Pakse, the organisation said.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/131031/laos-recovers-crashed-plane-black-boxes