Prime Minister Hun Sen’s departure to attend the Asean leaders’ summit in Bali, Indonesia, was unceremoniously delayed Monday at Phnom Penh International Airport when the aircraft scheduled to ferry the premier spewed aviation fuel across the runway.
In a scene all too reminiscent of the airplane spill in 2000, when a Royal Air Cambodge Boeing 737 overflowed with fuel as a shocked King Norodom Sihanouk was poised to board for a flight to China, delegates and officials Monday quickly slipped away from the leaking aircraft as firefighters were summoned to the scene to hose away the jet fuel.
The incident occurred as the Siem Reap Airways International Boeing 717 was refueled after it arrived from Siem Reap town. Hun Sen had not yet at the airport, but arrived while a fire engine and crew were clearing away the spill.
Despite assurances that the aircraft was safe, the premier and other passengers took no chances, and the plane was taken for a 20-minute test flight.
Four fire engines sat on the runway apron as the plane came back to land after the flight. The prime minister, accompanied by Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh, finally boarded the airplane at 8:10 am and departed for the Indonesian resort island.
Government officials said the incident was an accident.
“It was a technical problem, not a terrorism problem aimed at causing danger to Samdech [Hun Sen’s] mission overseas,” Hok Lundy, director general of National Police, said at the airport.
“This is the problem of the private aircraft company which was hired by the government. I ordered the plane to halt for
30 minutes. Right now the company claims there is no danger on the trip,” Hok Lundy said.
Hok Lundy said too much fuel was pumped into the aircraft’s tanks.
The government does not intend to punish the company for its carelessness, Hok Lundy said.
Minister of Cabinet Sok An also said the airline would not be punished.
In 2000, after a horrified Hun Sen watched fuel spill from the tanks of the aircraft scheduled to take King Sihanouk to Beijing, forcing him to cancel his trip, the prime minister announced the immediate removal of the chairman and vice chairman of Royal Air Cambodge.
Hun Sen also ordered a police investigation into the incident, saying he suspected an act of “political terrorism” aimed at the government and the King.
Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who witnessed the fuel spill on the King’s aircraft, at the time called for the airline officials to be prosecuted.
Sok An was later put in charge of RAC. The company has since shut down, leaving Cambodia without a national carrier.
Siem Reap Airways Executive Director Sati Laourkakra could not be contacted for comment Monday.
The airline’s station manager at Phnom Penh International Airport, Naiwat Neonan, said that a maintenance team was investigating the incident.