10 Aug 2007

16 bodies recovered from French Polynesia plane crash site

3:08 pm on 10 August 2007

The French High Commission and emergency services in French Polynesia say that the bodies of 16 passengers have been retrieved after a small plane plunged into the sea soon after take-off from Moorea this afternoon local time.

Oceania Flash reports that among the passengers were three foreign tourists, whose nationality and identity have not been established, as well as two officials from the European Commission's Pacific delegation.

They are Fiji based Michel Gauche, and Jean-Pierre Pierard from Noumea.

Earlier this week, they had held talks with French Polynesia's President Gaston Tong Sang to discuss projects financed by the European Development Fund.

The domestic Air Moorea Twin Otter, a twin-engine turboprop with 20 people onboard (including the pilot), was operating on the Pape'ete-Moorea 15-kilometre domestic route.

The plane was reported to have crashed into the lagoon that ends the small Moorea airstrip soon after take-off, at around mid-day local time.

The cause of the crash was not immediately established though a sudden engine failure has been mentioned locally as one possible explanation.

French Civil aviation authorities have launched an inquiry into the matter.

Emergency services deployed on the crash site, including several vessels from the French Navy and two helicopters, are continuing the underwater search for bodies of passengers who have not yet been accounted for.

The French Home Affairs, Overseas and Communities minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, in a government statement, has expressed the French government's deep sympathy and solidarity to the victims' families.

She also said her assistant minister and Secretary of State for Overseas, Christian Estrosi, would travel to French Polynesia on the first available flight.

French Polynesia's President Gaston Tong Sang has travelled by helicopter to the crash site with two other cabinet members.