Plane Veers off R’kiri Runway; Two Injured

Almost 60 terrified passengers fled a Chinese-made propeller plane after it left the runway while landing in Ratanakkiri province on Monday and set fire to foliage where it skidded to a halt.

Police and witnesses said that the plane, carrying Cambodian and foreign passengers, touched down just short of the airport’s laterite runway at around 11:40 am, damaging the wheel supports beneath the right wing of the plane.

The Royal Phnom Penh Airways Y7-100C aircraft continued onto the runway, where it went a few hundred meters further before veering off to the right and crashing approximately 20 meters away in scrub land, deputy provincial police chief Chea Bunthoeun said by phone from the site of the accident.

“The heat from the engine burned some small plants. It was very lucky that there were no casualties. Two fire trucks were right there and extinguished the fire immediately,” he said.

“The right wing and its propeller were broken,” he added.

One man sprained his arm and a woman sprained her leg in the crash, Chea Bunthoeun said, adding that the plane was carrying 59 passengers, including 30 Cambodians and nationals of France, Australia, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Italy, Thailand and the US.

The 52-seater passenger plane was carrying four children and three adults more than the number of seats, he said.

The passengers bought their tickets from Progress Multitrade Co, better known as PMT air, according to PMT Director Sar Sareth.

Sar Sareth said that PMT leased the crashed plane and crew from Prince Norodom Chakrapong’s Royal Phnom Penh Airlines.

The regular PMT plane and pilot had to fly to Bangkok, Sar Sareth said.

Kong Sambath, Royal Phnom Penh Airways marketing director, confirmed that the airline had provided the plane and crew.

Several passengers interviewed by telephone in Ratanakkiri alleged that the flight was overbooked and that two passengers flew with the pilots in the cockpit.

Sar Sareth and Kong Sambath both denied that the plane was carrying more than its capacity.

“There are 52 seats,” Kong Sambath said, adding that the plane had landed badly due to the strong wind. “The passengers could not have numbered 59.”

He added that the passenger number could be higher than 52 only if small children, who did not require their own seats, were counted. All adults on the plane are required to have seats, while small children may sit in their parents’ laps.

“They were overbooked, and there were two people in the cockpit,” said French passenger Bertrand Goy, a Paris-based writer.

“Some [passengers] were very, very upset and very angry because it is a huge responsibility to have planes that are that old still transporting passengers,” he said.

“The wheels seemed to be in very bad condition,” he added. “If you had wheels like that on your car in France they would stop you and tell you to go walking.”

Goy said that although nobody screamed or completely lost their cool, the sight of flames around the plane from foliage ignited by the engines did inspire a rush for the exit.

“I was at the rear, and I had to resist the assault of people coming from the front to be able to exit myself,” he said. “I can tell you I won’t come back with that company.”

Another French tourist, Gilles Nesme, said the experience had been a frightening blur as the plane touched down with a jolt.

“My first impression is that it was an antiquated plane, but I had been warned about it,” he said. “It was a good fright, but no one was injured…. It will be a good story to tell.”

(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)

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