Air Crash Kills Senior Lao Officials, Leaves Power Vacuum

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Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Douangchay Phichit (extreme right) attends a meeting with other Southeast Asian ministers at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, April 2, 2014.
Lao Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Lieutenant-General Douangchay Phichit (extreme right) attends a meeting with other Southeast Asian ministers at Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu, Hawaii, April 2, 2014.

Lao Deputy Prime Minister Douangchay Phichit, Minister of Public Security Thongbanh Sengaphone, and two other high-ranking officials were among 17 people killed in a military plane crash at the weekend, the government said, leaving a power vacuum in the authoritarian one-party administration.

Douangchay, who is also Defense Minister and a rising political star, and the other officials were traveling on a Ukrainian-made Antonov AN-74TK-300 aircraft to attend a commemoration ceremony in Xiengkhuang province on Saturday morning when it crashed while approaching an airport, according to reports.

"They passed away because of the accident of the Lao Air Force AN-74TK-300 aircraft on 17 May at 7:00 a.m. in Nadee village, Paek district of Xiengkhuang Province," the official Lao news agency KPL said in a dispatch.

"The cause of the accident is under investigation by concerned authorities," it said, giving little information about the crash in an area bordering northwestern Vietnam.

The plane was around 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) away from Xiangkhoung airport, near one of Laos' major archaeological sites, the Plain of Jars, when it crashed, the state-owned Vientiane Times reported.

Commemoration ceremony

The officials were on their way to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the "strategic gains" made by the Lao military during the Indochina War in May 18, 1959, the report said.

Photos taken from the crash site showed the aircraft had gone down in a forest area and was severely damaged, leaving a large amount of debris on the site, it said.

Foreign news agencies initially confirmed the crash through officials in neighboring Thailand, which enjoys close ties with Laos, whose government maintains strict media controls and tolerates almost no opposition.

Aside from Douangchay and Thongbanh, the KPL agency identified the other officials who perished as capital city Vientiane Mayor Soukanh Mahalath and the ruling Lao People's Revolutionary Party Propaganda Chief  Cheuang Sombounkhanh.

Douangchay's wife Thanda Phichit and some of his close aides also died in the accident, though three people, including a flight attendant, reportedly survived, sources in Vientiane told The Nation, a leading Thai newspaper.

Douangchay, aged 69, was in the politburo of the central committee of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party, which has ruled Laos since 1975.  The other three officials were in the central committee of the nation's all-powerful party.

Rising political star

Douangchay was regarded as the second generation of Lao leaders and is believed to have climbed the political ladder quickly following the footsteps of President Choummaly Sayasone, according to The Nation.

He entered the Politburo, the inner circle of the ruling party, and took the defense portfolio in 2001.

The sudden deaths of Douangchay and Thongbanh have dealt a blow to the government and the ruling party, reports said.

"It seems inevitable that the deaths of these officials, especially the two ministers, will have an impact on the power structure of the party and in Laos more generally," the Associated Press quoted Simon Creak, a historian of Laos and Southeast Asia at Japan's Kyoto University, as saying.

"Especially with the next party congress, which will select the next generation of leaders, less than two years away."

The crash is the second in Laos in seven months.

In October last year a Lao Airlines ATR-72 turboprop plunged into the Mekong River in bad weather as it approached Pakse Airport in southern Laos, killing all 49 people on board.

Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Comments (10)


from vientiane

Lao communist leaser did not know who pilot
the plane the pilot get pay by vietcong your own pilot kill you for money.

Jul 12, 2014 09:27 AM

Anonymous Reader

alchemist must be a Vietcong who jumps on the crash to make hostile propaganda against the third country.

Jun 22, 2014 11:40 AM


Any so-called plan crash or helicopter accidents in the two countries bordering Vietnam must be seen in the context of chinese machinations to undermine Vietnam's security. Laos and Cambodia are vital for VN's security. In August 1965, in his speech before the Central Committee of the communist party, Mao said that China must take control of the whole Indochina Peninsula comprising Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam and of course the South China Sea before moving on to take Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia and then on to conquer the Indian Ocean. He left a master plan with instructions for his successors to implement.

Jun 05, 2014 06:06 AM


There is suggestion the invisible hand of chinese intelligence was at play. The people who perished were pro-Vietnam elements of the ruling party and chinese agents sabotaged the plane to eliminate them so pro-China elements can rise to prominence. Similar "accident" happened also in neighboring Cambodia where two pro-Vietnam elements of the ruling party were killed in a plane crash. There seems to be a conscious effort by chinese intelligence to eliminate vietnamese influence in those two countries, reminiscent of the rise of the Khmer Rouge whose first task was to eliminate all pro-Vietnam elements. China then used the Khmer Rouge to foment trouble on VN's flank as prelude to its invasion of VN's northern border in 1979. It could mean that China is preparing to invade Vietnam from all sides, not just northern border and seaborne invasion of the entire coast from north to south as described in its publicly disclosed plan to capture Vietnam in a 31-days war.

Jun 05, 2014 05:57 AM


from Lao

The Gods are beginning to answer the Lao people's prayers.... Let them disappear one by one from the air, ground, and water...

May 28, 2014 08:47 AM

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