Eighteen people were on board the Lao military plane which crashed in the Southeast Asian country on the way to an official ceremony. The passengers included the defense minister and other high-ranking party officials.
The plane, a Ukraine-made Antonov AN-74TK-300, left the Laotian capital of Vientiane early Saturday morning to bring those on board to an official ceremony in Xiangkhoung province, about 470 kilometers (290 miles) away.
They included Defense Minister Douangchay Phichit and his wife. Douangchay was also one of the country's deputy prime ministers and a high-ranking member of its Politburo, the main decision-making body for the country's all-powerful Communist Party, which has ruled the single-party state since 1975. The economically poor, landlocked country has a population of seven million.
Others killed included Minister of Public Security Thongbane Sengaphone, Vientiane Governor Sukhan Mahalad and at least one other senior ruling party official.
Information about the crash, and those on board, came from Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee in neighboring Thailand. Lao National Television showed images of the wreckage with smoke rising from its badly charred remains. The footage showed rescuers pulling away pieces of aircraft debris and trying to dig into the remaining fuselage with shovels, as medical crews stood by watching.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, but the accident occurred as the plane was approaching Xiangkhoung's airport. The official Lao news agency KPL confirmed the crash and said the authorities were trying to rescue survivors: "The cause of the accident is under the investigation."
Laos has had 30 fatal air accidents since the 1950s, according to the Aviation Safety Network. In October last year, a civilian airplane operated by Lao Airlines plunged into the Mekong River in bad weather, killing all 49 people on board.
jm/slk (AP, dpa)