More than 20 feared dead in Cambodia plane crash

A charter plane carrying 22 people between two popular Cambodian tourist destinations crashed on Monday in a mountainous region in the south of the country, aviation officials said.

The Russian-made AN-24 left the Angkor temple town of Siem Reap at about 10am local time and vanished off radar screens 37 minutes later, said Keo Sivorn, director of operations at the Cambodian Aviation Secretariat.

It was headed for the southern seaside resort town of Sihanoukville, about 250km from the capital, Phnom Penh, he said.

The secretariat’s chief of staff, Him Sarun, said the plane was carrying 13 South Koreans, three Czech nationals and a Russian pilot, along with five Cambodian crew.

“The plane has crashed between Bokor Mountain and Kamchay Mountain,” he told Agence France-Presse.

“We don’t know how many are dead or how many survived.”

Kampot province Deputy Police Chief In Chiva said they were looking for the wreck in the area of Kamchay Mountain after conservationists working there told police they had seen the plane crash.

“The area is heavily forested and the sky is dark [with rain] so it is hard for us to search. We have not found any pieces of the plane yet,” he said.

“We have been informed that the plane crashed there but we are not sure.”

Keo Sivorn said two helicopters were searching for the crash site, but had found nothing amid worsening weather.

The plane was operated by PMT Air, which runs flights between Phnom Penh and some provincial capitals, but has had at least three accidents or in-flight emergencies over the past two years.

In one, engine failure forced a plane to turn back mid-flight, while another plane ran off the runway as it landed because it was overloaded with passengers, officials said at the time.

PMT opened a route between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville in January, aviation officials said, in a bid to encourage more tourist traffic between the two cities.

“We cannot find the plane right now, so we cannot say anything,” said a PMT official who did not want to be named.

In Seoul, a South Korean Foreign Ministry official said he had not yet acquired a passenger list for the doomed flight.

South Koreans made up the largest percentage of the 1,7-million foreign visitors to Cambodia in 2006.

Cambodia’s last major air disaster occurred 10 years ago, when a Vietnam Airlines flight from Ho Chi Minh City to Phnom Penh crashed in heavy monsoon rain as it attempted to land at the capital’s international airport.

Sixty-four people were killed in the crash. Only two infants, a Thai boy and a Vietnamese boy, survived.—AFP

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