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Jungle Search Yields Plane Crash Remains

By: Bronwyn Sloan Posted: January-01-2006 in
Bronwyn Sloan

Pilot error may have been a factor in the passenger plane crash in south-western Cambodia that killed all 22 people on board, rescue workers said Wednesday.

The PMT Air charter flight between the temple city of Siem Reap and the beach resort area of Sihanoukville disappeared Monday. After days of searching dense jungle in appauling weather, a search helicopter finally located the wreckage Wednesday.

Rescue workers were airlifted into the area within hours but there were no survivors.

A team of military rescue workers and experts who inspected the site said Wednesday that bad weather may have played a part in the crash, but pilot error may also be a factor.

"I would say (the pilot) was in the wrong place and started his descent without checking where he was," one expert said. It was as yet unclear if a storm had blown the pilot off course and he lost his bearings.

Deputy police chief of Kampot province, about 150 kilometers south-west of the capital, In Chiva, said the nearly 30-year-old Soviet-made plane had sustained severe damage to its right wing, although the cabin of the aircraft had held together surprisingly well.

Further investigations on the cause of the tragedy are set to continue.

The grim task of recovering the bodies has begun, with rescue workers working by helicopter to reach the victims and then flying them straight to the Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh where a makeshift morgue has been set up.

The Antonov AN-24 was carrying 22 people - including a Russian pilot, 13 South Korean tourists, three Czechs and Cambodian passengers and crew.

The Cambodian government made a preliminary statement blaming bad weather Tuesday despite the age of the aircraft and the fact that the small local charter company running the route, PMT Air, has a chequered safety history.

Last year the company earned an official reprimand from the national Civil Aviation Secretariat for failing to report a mid-flight engine failure.

More than 1,000 soldiers conducted the jungle search in heavy rain with visibility at times put at just 40 metres, but a slight break in the weather in the end enabled a helicopter to locate the stricken Antinov from the air.

Families of many of the South Korean tourists who lost their lives in the crash were expected to arrive Wednesday. The names of the victims have not been released.

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