French Polynesia's president Gaston Tong Sang has described yesterdays crash of an Air Moorea turboprop passenger plane as a "cruel tragedy for Polynesia."
Two Australians, two European Union development officials and several local government environment ministry staffers are said to have been on the plane which plunged into the sea near Tahiti yesterday, moments after take-off from a nearby island.
The first rescue workers on the scene are said to have found nothing but debris and floating bodies, with the wreckage lying at a depth of 600-700 metres.
Divers were called in but later had to stop the search due to darkness, although ships were still collecting debris from the crash site about two kilometres offshore.
The police say 16 bodies have been recovered, including that of the pilot.
They believe the other bodies are still trapped in the wreckage.
The plane was carrying 19 passengers, and a pilot,
The French civil aviation authority's investigation bureau is sending a team to French Polynesia to lead the inquiry into the crash.