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Cambodian military personnel retrieve pieces of wreckage from the water on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after a Z-9 helicopter crashed
Cambodian military personnel retrieve pieces of wreckage from the water on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after a Z-9 helicopter crashed. Pha Lina

China to help review crash

Chinese aviation experts will be dispatched to Cambodia to collect the black box from a Z-9 helicopter that crashed during a training exercise on Monday, killing four out of five crew members, according to a senior officer for the Kingdom’s Air Force.

Air Force Commander Soeung Samnang said yesterday that specialists from China would arrive in the capital as early as today to collect the device, which was retrieved from the wreckage during a recovery operation overseen by Minister of Defence Tea Banh.

“We cannot open the black box on our own. It may be sent to the factory where it was made,” Samnang said.

He added that the government would set up a commission of inquiry to find out what caused the deaths of the four military officers.

Two generals were among the dead: Brigadier General Eang Vannarith, who headed the Air Force’s training school, and Major General Ouk Bunnaha, deputy commander of the helicopter unit. Two pilots, Major Thorn Vandy and Major Kham Bunnan, were also killed.

Speaking after all four bodies were pulled from the water on Monday evening, Defence Minister Tea Banh said “strong wind” could have caused the craft to surge forward from the edge of a cliff overlooking a disused sand quarry flooded with rainwater.

“Scientifically, the wind can whirl strongly in the area, but we are waiting to check the results from the black box before drawing conclusions,” he said.

He added that the craft was on a training mission at the site in the capital’s Dangkor district when it failed to land.

Videos taken by witnesses showed the craft attempting to land at the edge of the quarry before accelerating nose-first over the edge and spiralling into its depths.

The Chinese-built Z-9 helicopter was part of a batch of 12 Z-9s that were bought by Cambodia in November last year using a $195 million loan from China.

The sole survivor of the deadly crash, Air Force cadet Cheng Sok Sambo, was continuing to receive treatment yesterday at Phnom Penh’s Calmette Hospital.

His unlikely escape from the plummeting aircraft was a case of luck rather than a last-minute jump as was earlier suggested, according to his cousin Sorl Serey, who was looking after Sok Sambo at the hospital yesterday.

The junior officer was still strapped firmly into his seat when he hit the water, he said.

“He told us that he did not jump out of the helicopter and he did not know what pushed him out. Soon after the crash, he appeared out of the water, and then he swiftly swam out and survived,” Serey said.

He added that his cousin was unable to eat or speak due to a facial injury he sustained in the fall and was being fed through a tube.

At Pochentong Air Force Base on Russian Boulevard yesterday, Post reporters were barred from entering a military funeral held for the four dead.

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