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GlobalSecurity.org In the News

The New York Times June 7, 2017

Wreckage of Missing Myanmar Military Plane Is Found

By Jane Perlez and Wai Moe

YANGON, Myanmar — Searchers found bodies and debris on Thursday from a military transport plane that disappeared with 122 people on board shortly after taking off Wednesday afternoon from an air base in southern Myanmar, military officials said.

The plane was carrying relatives of Myanmar soldiers, including children, as well as 14 crew members, and there was no word yet on whether there were any survivors.

The plane was found in the Andaman Sea about 40 miles from Myeik Air Base on Thursday morning. The bodies of 10 people have been found, military officials said.

The navy and air force had mobilized ships and planes to search for the aircraft in the area near the base, about 350 miles south of the country’s commercial capital, Yangon, the office of Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing said in a statement. The plane, a Chinese-made Y-8, was en route from the base to Yangon when it disappeared.

The weather in the area was bad, residents said, with pounding rain typical of the monsoon season that is now enveloping Myanmar.

The death toll from the crash is likely to be the worst of any air disaster in Myanmar, a country that has a spotty air safety record.

Before Wednesday, Myanmar had had 17 air crashes since 1988, most of them involving small passenger craft, according to The Daily Eleven, a privately owned newspaper. Last year, a Beechcraft trainer plane for the air force crashed near the capital, Naypyidaw, killing five people.

In the 17 crashes, 105 people were killed, the newspaper reported, citing the Aviation Safety Network.

As the navy and air force searched the waters, fishing boats spotted bodies floating about 30 miles offshore, said Kyaw Thet, chairman of the Dawei Fishing Association.

The military plays an important political role in Myanmar, even as a civilian government, with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as its de facto leader, has been in power since last year. The army holds 25 percent of the seats in Parliament and controls three crucial ministries, including home affairs.

The missing plane had logged 809 flying hours, a statement on the military’s Facebook page said. The Y-8 is commonly used for transport, reconnaissance, and search and rescue. It has four propellers and is modeled on a Russian prototype from the late 1950s, according to a description in the Chinese state news media.

A website specializing in assessments of air safety standards said the Y-8 aircraft was configured to carry a maximum of 96 soldiers or 82 paratroopers. The website, GlobalSecurity.org, also said the plane could take 60 wounded soldiers and their stretchers.

The Chinese state-run company that sold the aircraft to Myanmar last year, China National Aero-Technology Import and Export, said in a statement on Thursday that it would provide “full support” in an investigation into the crash.

The safety record in China of the Y-8 “has been excellent,” said Gary Li, associate director of APCO Worldwide in Beijing and a former security analyst for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“Accident rates in the Chinese Y-8 fleets are very, very low,” he said.

“We don’t know what the engine maintenance was like after it arrived in 2016” in Myanmar, Mr. Li said. “That is the primary reason for the downing of many older aircraft.”

The local news media quoted Myanmar’s Defense Ministry as saying that in 2015, the air force had bought 29 airplanes and seven helicopters in the preceding four years, coinciding with an overall increase in military spending in Southeast Asia.

General Min Aung Hlaing was quoted as saying that the spending was needed to keep up with other countries in the region.

Saw Nang contributed reporting from Yangon, and Mike Ives from Hong Kong.

Copyright 2017, The New York Times Company