A fracas aboard a Kampuchea Airlines charter flight from Bangkok to South Korea last week has left the fate of a potential Phnom Penh-Seoul commercial route up in the air.
Jimmy Gao, a Kampuchea Airlines director, said Friday that trouble erupted aboard the airline’s Lockheed Tri-Star last Sunday, on the second leg of a three-part charter flight.
The 345-seater plane was making the first of seven charter flights approved on a trial basis by the governments of Cambodia and Korea.
If the route proves popular, officials said, the governments may approve a regular service.
According to Gao, the first leg of the trip—from Seoul to Phnom Penh—went smoothly. The plane’s 340 passengers were to arrive in Phnom Penh, spend a half-day in the city, and then proceed to Bangkok for a three-day tour before returning to Seoul.
The plan was for the 25-year-old plane to complete the entire loop every four days. The first group of tourists proceeded to Bangkok without incident, returning to the plane last Sunday for the final leg to Seoul.
As the Tri-Star was preparing for takeoff, Gao said, the pilot noticed a signal malfunction and elected to return to the gate to check it out.
The flight crew attempted to explain to the passengers that the problem was probably minor and the plane would not be detained long, Gao said. But 39 passengers became upset and insisted on getting off the plane—to the extent of trying to open the doors while the vehicle was taxi-ing, he said.
“I doubt whether they spoke enough English to understand what the flight crew was saying,” he said. “I had met these passengers when they toured Phnom Penh. Most didn’t speak English.”
He said he did not think alcohol was involved, describing the distraught passengers as “exhausted” after four days of touring. He said the group was on a regular sight-seeing tour.
The 39 passengers were allowed to disembark, and the plane arrived in Seoul without further incident. According to the Korea Times, Korean aviation authorities are investigating the passengers’ complaints that they were “abandoned” at Bangkok airport.
Subsequent tours have proceeded without incident, Gao said, adding he hopes the two governments will still establish a regular service.