A twin turbo-propeller airplane belonging to the troubled carrier PMT Air made an emergency landing at Phnom Penh International Airport on Monday after an engine failed during a flight to Ratanakkiri province, police and airline officials said Tuesday.
“One of the engines broke down halfway through the flight,” said Mao Moly, chief of the Ratanakkiri airport police.
The plane, a Soviet-made Antonov An-24, is nearly identical to the Chinese-made Y7-100C that skidded off the runway at the Ratanakkiri province airport in November, injuring two passengers aboard the PMT-chartered flight.
Around 20 passengers were aboard the PMT flight on Monday, Mao Moly said.
Five minutes before landing in the provincial capital of Banlung, the pilot alerted Ratanakkiri air traffic control to the engine trouble and diverted the plane back to Phnom Penh, saying it was too dangerous to land at the provincial airport, Mao Moly said.
The pilot did not want to attempt to land on the airfield’s gravel runway, he said.
PMT Director Sar Sareth confirmed that the plane’s right engine had failed and leaked oil during the flight, which takes about 60 minutes.
“This was a serious failure,” Sar Sareth said, adding that the mechanic who had cleaned the engine on Monday had not correctly replaced an oil filter in the plane’s right engine.
“It was carelessness. It doesn’t happen often,” he added.
After the PMT pilots made a successful emergency landing at 1 pm in Phnom Penh, the plane was repaired and then flew to Siem Reap at 3 pm, he said. Unlike other planes, the Antonov can fly with only one engine, he added.
Though the accident could hurt business, many of PMT’s customers are Banlung town residents who frequently fly by plane, he said, adding that he hoped they would be understanding.
Sar Sareth said PMT would continue flights to Ratanakkiri, four times a week during the high season and twice a week during off-peak months.
The owner of the Tribal Hotel in Banlung town, who goes by the name of Mrs Kim, said several people had canceled reservations following the accident.
“It affects tourism seriously,” she said. “The air ticket price has gotten higher and higher but it’s dangerous,” she said of PMT’s service.
Most tourists have been traveling to the province via seven-hour taxi rides from Phnom Penh since November’s accident involving the PMT-chartered plane, she said.
Following the November incident, in which the Chinese-made Y7-100C burst a tire on landing and careened off the runway and into underbrush surrounding the airfield, the UN barred its employees from using PMT, currently the only airline flying to the province.
In the 46 years since the An-24 was first manufactured in Ukraine, the aircraft model has crashed 114 times, according to the Flight Safety Foundation.
The most recent crash occurred in January, when a plane belonging to the Slovak air force crashed near the Hungarian village of Hejce, killing 42.
(Additional reporting by Douglas Gillison)