Fishermen joined navy and air force personnel Thursday in recovering bodies and aircraft parts from the sea off Myanmar, where a military plane carrying 122 people including 15 children crashed a day earlier, officials said.
The four-engine Chinese-made Y-8 turboprop aircraft had left Myeik, also known as Mergui, heading for Yangon on a route over the Andaman Sea. It was raining, but not heavily, at the time contact was lost with it at 1:35 p.m. Wednesday, when it was southwest of the city of Dawei, formerly known as Tavoy.
By nightfall Thursday, the bodies of 31 people — 21 women, eight children and two men — had been recovered, said military spokesman Gen. Myat Min Oo. All of the bodies were taken to a military hospital in Dawei, which was visited by some of the victims' relatives.
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One of them, Ma Mon, said her 32-year-old daughter Zin Wai Aung had been married to a military officer, but had gone on the flight without him.
"She went on the plane with her 3-month-old son. Both of them died," she said. "That was my beautiful grandson."
In many cases, the bodies were not recovered whole, an officer involved in the recovery operation said.
More than 1,000 people, including volunteers from dozens of community mutual aid societies with their vehicles, had gathered Thursday on the beach at San Hlan village in Laung Lone township, which served as a landing point for recovery operations for the bodies.
The bodies, fetched from the sea and taken aboard large fishing vessels and navy ships, had been transferred to smaller boats which hauled them into shallow water at the beach, where soldiers put the body bags on stretchers and carried them to waiting trucks. The process had been delayed for several hours by heavy rain and choppy seas.
Local fishermen joined nine navy ships, five military aircraft and three helicopters in the search, the military spokesman said. One of the first finds by the searchers was of two life jackets, bodies and an aircraft wheel in the sea west of Laung Lone, he announced earlier.
The plane carried 108 passengers — mostly military personnel and their families — and 14 crew members, according to an announcement on the Facebook page of military Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, which originally gave slightly lower numbers. Fifteen of the passengers were children. It is not unusual for such flights to carry civilians to offset transportation costs for military families stationed in the somewhat remote south.
The Facebook page, the main source of official information about the crash, said the plane, carrying about 2.4 tons of cargo in addition to the 122 people aboard, was received in March last year and since then had logged 809 flying hours. It said the pilot and co-pilot both had more than 3,100 hours of flying experience.
The area is about 440 miles (700 kilometers) north of the last primary radar contact with Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which vanished on a flight from Malaysia to Beijing on March 8, 2014, with 239 people on board. That plane is believed to have flown far off course and crashed into a remote area of the southern Indian Ocean.