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Body count rises to 31 in search for downed plane amid deteriorating weather

As search and rescue efforts entered their third day on Friday, Burma’s military said it had recovered the bodies of 31 men, women and children from the military aircraft that crashed into the Andaman Sea earlier this week, with hopes fading for the survival of any of the 122 passengers onboard.

Naval vessels, airplanes and helicopters from the military continue to carry out maritime search operations in conjunction with private fishing trawlers and soldiers along the Tenasserim Division coast, according to the Office of the Commander-in-Chief. The missing aircraft, a Chinese-manufactured Y-8-200F transport plane, lost contact with air traffic controllers at 1:35pm on Wednesday, some 43 miles (70 kilometres) west of Dawei town.

Of the bodies recovered as of Friday afternoon, 21 were women, eight were children and two were men. The plane was en route to the commercial capital Rangoon from Myeik in southeastern Tenasserim Division when it disappeared from radar on Wednesday afternoon. A total of 108 soldiers and their family members, 14 crew members and 2.4 tonnes of supplies were onboard the ill-fated aircraft.

The military on Friday said search efforts — concentrated off the coast of Tenasserim Division’s Launglon Township — were likely to be hampered in the coming days by a low-pressure system over the Bay of Bengal that has brought storms and reduced visibility on the high seas.

As search and rescue personnel pulled bodies and pieces of the plane wreckage from the sea, foreign governments on Thursday joined the President’s Office in offering condolences to the families and friends of the victims.

In Canada, where State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi is on an official state visit, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday offered his sympathies, and the US Embassy in Rangoon and Russian President Vladimir Putin joined that sentiment on Thursday.

“The US Embassy is saddened by the news of the recent military transport aircraft crash near Dawei and wishes to express our heartfelt condolences to the Myanmar Air Force, and to the families of the passengers and crew. Our thoughts and prayers at this time are for a safe search and rescue effort as well as with all of those affected by this tragedy,” read a statement from the US mission.

On Friday, lawmakers in Burma’s Union Parliament observed two minutes’ silence to honour the victims of the crash.

“At a time when the international community has been issuing statements, members of Parliament — who are representing the citizens of Myanmar — should not be late to do so. So, I agree that we should express our condolences by issuing a statement in a timely manner,” said Maung Myint, a Union Solidarity and Development Party MP, in expressing his support for a proposal put forward by National League for Democracy lawmaker Kyaw Soe Lin to observe two minutes’ silence, and urging the legislature to also issue a formal statement of condolence.


In Facebook-obsessed Burma, the Office of the Commander-in-Chief also took the unusual step of attempting to rein in social media users as more images from the search and rescue operation began to surface.

“As the bodies are in a shape that is totally heart-rending and painful not only for the bereaved families but also for everybody to see, Tatmadaw [Army, Navy and Air] families made a solemn request not to use the photos of the bodies in any media including the social network,” the office wrote on its official Facebook page on Friday.

An investigation into the cause of the transport plane’s crash is underway, the office also said Friday, with the manufacturer China National Aero-Technology Import & Export Corporation agreeing to cooperate in the probe.


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