A Vietnam Airlines flight that slid off the runway at Siem Reap-Angkor International Airport Tuesday evening caused numerous cancellations, at least one flight diversion and closed the airport to large aircraft all day Wednesday, tourism and aviation officials said.
The A320 Airbus, carrying 90 passengers and eight crew members from Ho Chi Minh City, landed at about 5:45 pm “under adverse weather conditions,” according to a statement from Societe Concessionaire de l’Aeroport, the company that manages the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports.
The plane failed to stop at the end of the runway and the front tire stuck in the mud, where it remained through Wednesday evening, officials said.
No one was injured, the statement said.
Airport officials announced the closure of the airport Tuesday evening and informed airline officials on Wednesday morning that the runway was open only to smaller airplanes but closed to larger Boeing- and Airbus-made airplanes.
An airline official said a flight from Phnom Penh on Siem Reap Airways and a flight from Bangkok on Bangkok Airways were canceled Tuesday evening.
Two Vietnam Airlines flights, one from Ho Chi Minh City and one from Hanoi, were also canceled Tuesday evening, the official said.
Tourism Ministry Secretary of State Thong Khon said that a Silk Air flight from Singapore was sent to Phnom Penh on Wednesday evening.
Airport spokesman Khek Norinda said Bangkok Airways, which has five flights a day from Bangkok to Siem Reap on Airbus-built planes, switched to smaller aircraft on Wednesday.
Vietnam Airlines, which has seven flights a day from Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City on Boeing-built planes, did the same, he said.
Both Malaysian Airlines and Silk Airlines have regular flights to Siem Reap on Thursdays. There was no word on Wednesday on whether those flights would be canceled or diverted.
Workers were expected to work through the night and into Thursday morning freeing the airplane using a balloon-like device, Thong Khon said.
“However way, they have to work,” he said.
Engineers from Vietnam Airlines, four officials from the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation and a number of government tourism officials arrived in Siem Reap Wednesday morning,
“Experts are on the field to remove the A320 by lifting it up and dragging it back on the runway. The operation is likely to take approximately 24 hours [once the] equipment [reaches] the airport,” the SCA statement said.
The balloon, which will be set under the airplane to lift it out of the mud, arrived in Siem Reap Wednesday afternoon, Thong Khon said.
Workers removed the plane’s petroleum to lighten the plane, said Keo Sivorn, director of flight operations and flight safety at the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation.
Thong Khon said the province’s tourism-based economy would not be seriously hurt by the airport’s suspension of large airplane landings. “But if [Thursday] there is another delay, then we will lose,” he said.
Khek Norinda said he was unsure when the airport would fully reopen, although Keo Sivorn said he was confident the Vietnam Airlines airplane would be freed by Thursday.
A similar accident occurred in October 2001 when a Siem Reap Airways flight, also coming from Ho Chi Minh City, slid off the Siem Reap runway and mired itself in mud. A giant balloon, accompanied by cables, was also used on that occasion.
No one was injured in that mishap, as well, and the airport reopened after two days.
One official with an airline that has regular flights to Siem Reap said that the plane landed with a tailwind and could have landed upwind, thereby slowing the plane on the runway, if airport management would allow airlines to fly in the vicinity of Angkor Wat.
Concern that flights near the ancient temple could cause structural damage have prompted airport officials to only allow take-offs and landings in the direction headed away from Angkor Wat, the airline official said.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Vachon)