Twenty feared dead after Tahiti crash

AFP , PAPEETE

Sat, Aug 11, 2007 - Page 1

A passenger plane plunged into the sea near Tahiti moments after take-off, officials in French Polynesia said, and all 20 people aboard are feared dead, including five foreigners.

Witnesses said they saw it plough into the waves soon after taking off from the airport on the smaller neighboring island of Moorea for the 17km flight to Tahiti.

So far 16 bodies have been recovered from the Air Moorea jet, said officials in Papeete, capital of the French overseas territory.

Two Australians, two EU development officials and several local government environment ministry staffers were listed as on the turboprop when it went down.

In Australia, a foreign affairs department spokesman confirmed two of its nationals were on board, adding that there were no survivors. Earlier reports had indicated two US citizens were listed.

The first rescue workers on the scene found nothing but debris and floating bodies, with the wreckage lying at a depth between 600m and 700m.

"The bodies were coming up slowly, one after the other," said one rescuer. "It seems that the cabin disintegrated upon impact as all the passengers are still buckled in."

The plane was carrying 19 passengers, including five foreigners, and a pilot, who was aged 53.