King Norodom Sihanouk flew to Beijing on China Southern Airlines Sunday, five days after a fueling mishap led him to abort a scheduled flight on Royal Air Cambodge.
Tuesday’s attempted departure was scratched after approximately 30 liters of jet fuel spilled out of the RAC 737’s fuel tanks onto the runway. Prime Minister Hun Sen promptly sacked the national airline’s chairman and vice chairman after the incident.
This week, Minister of Cabinet Sok An was temporarily put in charge of RAC. He was not present at the King’s Sunday’s farewell.
Approximately 250 people did see the King off at Pochentong Airport’s VIP pavilion. For about 20 minutes before his departure, King Sihanouk chatted with ambassadors, Senate President Chea Sim, Prince Norodom Ranariddh, Hun Sen and other ministers.
Then, in a flourish of bows and joined hands, he walked down the red carpet to board the waiting China Southern A320 airbus.
Usually a very formal and orchestrated ceremony, the King’s Sunday farewell was less than systematic.
King Sihanouk’s well-wishers normally line up to greet him in a hierarchical, single-file line alongside the swath of red carpet.
On Sunday, however, a formless throng of upper-level government officials and attendants followed the 77-year-old monarch all the way to the plane.
They stayed watchful until he was well into the air.
“We are very sorry he could not fly by our plane,” Prince Ranariddh said moments after the King’s take-off on the Chinese airline. “This is easier and cheaper.”
China Southern Airlines is China’s largest air carrier, according to Reuters News Service.
The King plans to spend two months in Beijing, where he keeps a residence, for rest and medical attention.