BANGKOK, AUG. 31 -- A Thai Airways Boeing 737 jetliner apparently trying to avoid another 737 during a landing approach crashed into the sea off a resort island today and all 83 people aboard were feared dead.

"I don't think there will be any survivors," said Prayoon Thaweesag, director of Phuket Island airport. "The plane has completely submerged."

The state-owned Thai airline issued a statement saying that as of 10:30 p.m., it believed there were no survivors. Officials said 12 bodies had been recovered by nightfall.

If none of the 74 passengers and nine crew members aboard the airliner survived, the toll will be the highest in Thailand's history. The worst previous airline disaster here was the 1976 crash of an Egyptian Airlines plane that ploughed into a Bangkok textile factory, killing 81 people, 29 of them textile workers on the ground.

The plane that crashed today was on a domestic flight from Hat Yai, near Songkhla on the eastern coast of southern Thailand, to Phuket, off the southwestern coast.

About 40 of the passengers were foreigners -- two Americans, three French, three Japanese, one Italian and about 30 ethnic Chinese, mostly from Malaysia.

"Initial reports indicate the plane was trying to avoid another plane of Dragon Air {a Hong Kong airline}," said Narong Dithipen, managing director of Thai Airways.

He said both planes were on their final approach to Phuket airport and were scheduled to land only minutes apart. "In trying to avoid the other aircraft the Thai Airways plane plunged into the sea," Narong said.

Narong said Phuket control tower's first report indicated the crash took place "because the Thai plane was avoiding a Boeing 737 of Dragon Air as it was in the process of preparing its approach to the airfield in the final stage of flight."

Prayoon said the pilot of the Dragon Air flight, which landed safely, was distraught after watching the Thai plane plunge into the sea.

{The Associated Press quoted Dragon Airlines Ltd. officials in Hong Kong as saying the captain of the Dragon aircraft had assured them that the Dragon plane was "not involved" in the accident.

{The AP quoted Prayoon as saying the two aircraft were following a landing procedure that had caused no problems in the past.}

Dragon Airlines was formed in 1985 by Hong Kong, Macao and Chinese interests and is now controlled by Y.K. Pao, one of the world's richest men.

The airline leases three Boeing 737s and operates scheduled flights to Thailand and charter flights to several cities in Japan and China.

The island in the Amdaman Sea is a haven of lush vegetation and white sandy beaches that has become a major international resort.