Backpacks, an airplane propeller and passports were among the debris scattered on the riverbank where the Lao Airlines turboprop plane apparently hit hard before skidding into the water and sinking Wednesday.
"So far eight bodies have been found. We don't yet know their nationalities," said Yakao Lopangkao, director general of the country's Department of Civil Aviation, who was at the crash site in Pakse, in southern Laos. "We haven't found the plane yet. It is underwater. We're trying to use divers to locate it."
He ruled out finding survivors. "There is no hope. The plane appears to have crashed very hard before entering the water."
Some bodies were found as far as 20 kilometres from the crash site, he said.
"We have asked villagers and people who live along the river to look for bodies and alert authorities when they see anything," he said.
Fleets of small fishing boats and inflatable rafts plied the muddy, vast waterway as part of the search with men in life vests peering into the water. After storms Wednesday, the search took place under sunny blue skies.
Thailand, which borders Laos, was helping with the search. It sent 30 scuba divers to assist in the search for bodies, said Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee.
The state-run Lao Airlines released an updated list of the 44 passengers' nationalities Thursday. It said the flight included 16 Lao nationals, seven French, six Australians, five Thais, three Koreans, two Vietnamese and one person each from Canada, China, Malaysia, Taiwan and the United States.
The Canadian passenger has yet to be identified.
A Foreign Affairs spokesman in Ottawa said Wednesday that the department was working closely with local authorities to confirm if Canadian citizens had been affected.
Cambodian authorities said one of the plane's pilots was a 56-year-old Cambodian with more than 30 years flying experience.
Details of the crash remained murky. Lao Airlines said in a statement that the plane took off from the capital Vientiane and "ran into extreme bad weather conditions" as it prepared to land at Pakse Airport. The area is known for its remote Buddhist temples, nature treks and waterfalls that draw tourists.
The airline said it had yet to determine reasons for the crash of the ATR-72 aircraft, which was virtually new and had just been delivered in March. The crash occurred about seven kilometres from the airport.
French-Italian aircraft manufacturer ATR said in a statement that "the circumstances of the accident are still being determined." It said that it will assist in the investigation which will be led by Lao authorities.
The ATR-72 has been involved in 16 crashes since it went into service in 1988, according to databases kept by the Flight Safety Foundation and the Bureau of Aircraft Accidents Archives. The death toll from Wednesday's crash was the second highest on record involving an ATR-72; accidents in the U.S. in 1988 and Cuba in 2010 each killed 68 people. ATR had delivered 611 of the planes by the end of last year.
Among the six Australians on board, was a family of four. Relatives released a photo of the family, Gavin and Phoumalaysy Rhodes and their two children, a three-year-old girl and a 17-month-old boy.
The other two Australians were a father and son. They were identified as Michael Creighton, a 42-year-old aid worker based in Laos who had worked for the United Nations, and his father, Gordon Creighton, 71, a retired teacher who was visiting his son.
"We have lost a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a fiance and a best mate in one tragic circumstance and we are trying to come to terms with our loss," the family said in a statement. Michael Creighton was living in Laos with his fiance, who was not on the plane.
_ With files from The Canadian Press.