Mass funeral held for victims of Myanmar plane crash

DAWEI: Heartbroken relatives gathered on Friday for the funeral rites of the first victims of a military plane crash off Myanmar’s southern coast, as search teams battled heavy rains and churning waves to find scores more people presumed lost at sea.
Most of the 31 dead retrieved from the Andaman Sea so far have been women and children after a fraught search by navy ships, planes and helicopters hampered by sweeping rains.
A total of 122 people were on board the Chinese-made Shaanxi Y8 military aircraft when it crashed on Wednesday during a routine flight from the southern city of Myeik to Myanmar’s commercial hub of Yangon.
Hundreds gathered in a cemetery outside Dawei town on Friday afternoon to bid goodbye to loved ones whose bodies had been pulled from the water the previous day on San Hlan beach, a two hour drive away.
Chanting from Buddhist monks filled a hall used for the ceremonies as 10 flimsy wooden coffins were laid out.
One woman fainted and had to be carried out and many others broke down wailing as the service went on.
Mourners then moved outside and watched as black smoke from the cremated coffins poured out of nearby towers, drifting across the sky.
“My husband identified my nephew’s body. I’m so sorry,” said a tearful Khine Zar Win, who lost her youngest brother, his wife and two-year-old nephew in the plane crash.
Another mourner, Aye Aye, said five members of her friend’s family were killed in the crash.
“I couldn’t sleep when I heard about them,” she said. “We lived together like a family for 15 years in the military before my husband retired.”
“I have no words,” added one woman, whose daughter and grandson were on the plane. “We are so sad.”
More than half of the passengers on the aircraft were from military families, including 15 children, according to the army. The rest were soldiers and flight crew.
The military said on Friday it had identified 16 of the dead so far.
There has been no official explanation for the cause of the crash, one of several deadly incidents involving Myanmar military aircraft in recent years.
Monsoon season brings heavy rains and strong winds every year, but there were no reports of major storms along the plane’s flight route when it went missing.
Fishing boats helped navy vessels and military aircraft as they continued to hunt for the wreckage on Friday, despite tides reaching over 2.5 metres, the military said in a statement.
But by the afternoon officials had not announced the retrieval of any more bodies.
“We are having difficulty because of the strong winds and tide,” Major Aung Win, police chief of Launglon township, said. The military said the aircraft was flying above 18,000 feet when it lost contact with air traffic control at 1:35 pm (07:05 GMT) on Wednesday. — AFP