Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tourist plane crashes in Cambodia; 22 feared dead

Tourist plane crashes in Cambodia; 22 feared dead

The Associated Press

PREY PEAY, Cambodia — A chartered plane carrying 22 people between two popular tourist destinations in Cambodia crashed today in a remote, mountainous jungle, aviation officials said.

The plane, a Russian-made An-24, was flying from Siem Reap — home to the popular Angkor Wat temple complex — to the coastal city of Sihanoukville, said Him Sarun, Cabinet chief for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation.

In Chiva, a provincial police chief, said conservation workers on a nearby mountain reported seeing a plane crash in thick forest in the distance.

Rescue teams of soldiers and police searched the area, but Him Sarun said they had not reached the crash site nine hours after the plane disappeared — hampered by nightfall, the remoteness of the area and slippery soil from recent rains that made trails impassable for vehicles. Five ambulances were sent to the general area of the crash.

"If we located the plane three or four hours after the crash, there might have been some hope of survivors who could have been taken to the hospital," Him Sarun said late Monday. "But since it is going to be a whole night passing without finding it, even if there had been any survivors, they could die from loss of blood."

Him Sarun said the flight is thought to have crashed between Kamchay and Bokor mountains, about 80 miles southwest of the capital, Phnom Penh. The plane belonged to PMT Air, a small Cambodian airline that began flying the route in January.

Thirteen South Koreans and three Czechs were aboard, with a crew of five Cambodians and a Russian co-pilot, an official at the Siem Reap airport said. The plane lost contact five minutes before it was to land, said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Nhim Vanda, vice president of the National Committee for Disaster Management, said the search was suspended for the night. Speaking briefly by phone from the area, he said he feared that the chance of finding survivors was low.

Kim Young-chae, an official at the consular division in Seoul of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, confirmed that 13 South Koreans were on board.

South Korea had the highest number of tourists to visit Cambodia last year — some 221,000 South Koreans were among last year's total of 1.7 million foreign visitors, according to Cambodia's Tourism Ministry.

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