Video: Deadly plane crash near Tahiti

updated 8/10/2007 3:51:04 AM ET 2007-08-10T07:51:04

A small airplane plunged into the sea moments after taking off from the French Polynesian resort island of Moorea, killing at least 17 people in the territory’s worst-ever plane crash, officials said Friday.

Two Australian tourists, two European Union officials, and a group of Polynesian environmental and tourism officials were among the 20 people aboard the Twin Otter DHC6 turboprop when it crashed Thursday, French officials said. The cause of the crash was unclear.

Rescue workers, helped by French navy ships and local fishing boats, recovered the bodies of 16 passengers and the pilot, the No. 2 French official in the territory, Jacques Witkowski, said on RTL radio.

“There is little hope of finding survivors at this hour,” he added, because the plane sank immediately in deep waters.

He called it the worst-ever airplane accident on French Polynesia.

The plane went down within a minute after takeoff. The Air Moorea flight was heading for Tahiti, 11 miles away, on what would have been just a seven-minute journey.

Cause of crash unclear
The Twin Otter plane was returned to service after a major upgrade in November 2006 and had two new engines, Witkowski said. It was unclear when it first entered service. He would not comment on the possible cause of the crash, saying it was up to investigators to determine.

The island of Moorea is a popular resort location prized for its stunning beaches and green hilly peaks. The plane carried out regular flights between Moorea and Tahiti for Air Moorea.

Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said Friday that the two Australians passengers were from Victoria state, but that they had not been identified.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, vacationing in the United States, issued a statement expressing condolences to the families of the victims, and “to all Polynesia, and to the Australian and European authorities.”

He ordered the junior minister for France’s overseas territories, Christian Estrosi, to travel to Polynesia immediately.

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