Lao Defence Minister, 4 senior officials killed in plane crash: Thailand

Rescue workers search an air force plane crash site near Nadee village, in Xiang Khouang province in the north of the country on May 17, 2014. A Lao military plane crashed on Saturday killing five senior officials on board including the Defence Minis
Rescue workers search an air force plane crash site near Nadee village, in Xiang Khouang province in the north of the country on May 17, 2014. A Lao military plane crashed on Saturday killing five senior officials on board including the Defence Minister, Mr Douangchay Phichit, of the communist country, Thai authorities said. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (AFP) - A Lao military plane crashed on Saturday killing five senior officials on board including the Defence Minister, Mr Douangchay Phichit, of the communist country, Thai authorities said.

The group was believed to be travelling to an official ceremony in the north-eastern province of Xiangkhouang on an air force jet manufactured by Ukraine's Antonov.

The permanent secretary of the Thai defence ministry, Mr Nipat Thonglek, told AFP that he had been informed of the deaths by a senior Lao military official and would attend the defence minister's funeral on behalf of Thailand.

The foreign ministry in Bangkok said about 20 people were on board including the Vientiane governor and other prominent figures.

The official Lao news agency KPL confirmed the crash and said the authorities were trying to rescue survivors. It said the accident involved an Antonov AN-74TK-300 plane operated by the Lao air force - but did not give any information about the passengers or any casualties.

"The concern is now helping to rescue the survivors," it said in a brief English-language report.

"The cause of accident is under the investigation."

The news agency showed pictures of the wreckage of the plane in the Lao jungle.

Laos has had 30 fatal air accidents since the 1950s, according to the Aviation Safety Network.

In October last year a civilian airplane operated by Lao Airlines plunged into the Mekong River in bad weather killing all 49 people on board.

The landlocked country of about seven million people has an authoritarian one-party government and is one of Asia's poorest nations.