‘Plane Crash’ Turns Out to Be Military Exercise

Villagers in Kampot and Takeo provinces on Tuesday called ABC radio reporting what they thought was a plane crash, only for an air force officer to call the popular radio station and inform listeners that the plane had in fact landed safely at a nearby air base.

At about 9:15 a.m., two callers, one from Kampot province and another from Takeo province, were put on air and reported that they had seen an airplane flying dangerously low and disappearing into a mountain range. Both callers said they believed that it had crashed.

Fifteen minutes later, an air force official called the program to say that the aircraft was being used in a military training exercise in the area and had landed as planned at the Sihanoukville International Airport.

Lieutenant General Soeung Samnang, commander of the Royal Cambodian Air Force, said Tuesday that four aircraft belonging to the U.S., Thailand and Malaysia were part of a military exercise in which pilots were practicing emergency food drops.

“There were four aircraft—two C-130 aircraft from the United States, one from Thailand and another from Malaysia to train for five days from June 3 to 7,” said Lt. Gen. Samnang.

“Our pilots flew very low as part of training to learn how to drop food supplies to victims without destroying the packages. Our pilots flew over Kompong Speu and Kampot provinces very low near the trees and palm trees to Kang Keng Airport,” he said.

Sean Macintosh, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, confirmed that the U.S. was involved in military training in the area but said that no U.S. aircraft were in Kampot at the time of the incident. “Pacific Airlift Rally, a biennial, military airlift symposium involves over 100 personnel from 22 nations in the Indo-Pacific region,” he said in an email.

Sam Ouk, police chief of Toek Chhou district in Kampot province, said that as soon as reports came in over ABC radio, he sent out his officers to investigate the crash, which they learned had not happened. “The aircraft flew very low over the mountain and it looked like it crashed into the trees, making our villagers frantic because they previously saw a plane crash in that area,” he said.

In 2007, a passenger plane flown by PMT Air, a now defunct Cambodian airline, crashed in the mountains of Kampot, killing all 22 people onboard, including five Cambodians whose families have yet to receive any compensation.

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