A spectacular rescue operation to find a downed plane high atop Mount Oral early
this month involved helicopters flown in from Vietnam and US Special Forces. Searchers
found that Americans Jerry Jordan and Chris Cochran were killed instantly when their
single-engine Cessna Caravan slammed into Cambodia's highest peak, less than 35 meters
from the summit.
The aircraft was leased from TransNorthern of Anchorage, Alaska by LCT of Houston
to conduct an aerial magnetic density survey of the Tonle Sap and Mekong river. The
project was funded by the Japanese National Oil Corporation as part of an aid package
to the Cambodia.
The plane took off at 1:10am Apr 30 from the newly opened TransGlobal Kampong Chhnang
cargo airport and crashed about 30 minutes later. That afternoon, an RCAF Mi-8 helicopter
spotted the wreckage at around 4 pm. "The pilot was flying high and fast, so
we couldn't see if there were any survivors," recalls TransGlobal security chief
The following day, an Aerostar helicopter was rented from TexAir in Vietnam and flown
into the country. Two US Army Special Forces soldiers joined the search team. "The
American military attaché didn't hesitate to send us a medic and an engineer,"
says Ferraro. "At about 4:00 pm, we were able to see that there were no survivors,
as the experienced pilot flew low enough for the prop wash to bend the trees out
of the way."
On May 2, the weather was so bad that a ground team was dropped 13 km from the crash
to try to hack their way in. TransGlobal site manager Paul Greaves led the patrol
5-6 km until it encountered an insurmountable cliff. "It was extremely dangerous
for them," says Ferraro. "At lower elevations there are a lot of snakes,
mines and unexploded ordinance."
Meanwhile, Ferraro and the two Special Forces soldiers managed to rappel into the
crash site by helicopter. "I went in first and the two others came in at about
45-minute intervals," he says. "We managed to get the bodies packaged out
and one of the Special Forces made it back into the helicopter before the weather
rolled back in. Two of us had to stay the night of May 2 and most of the next day
before we could get out."
Initial findings indicate the plane was traveling at a high rate of speed on impact
and was functioning properly. "We don't believe that it was a mechanical or
a fuel problem," says TransGlobal director Dr Iain Gray.
He praises the search and rescue team for their efforts. "What Phil, Paul, the
Special Forces and RCAF did was exemplary," he says. "What they did was
absolutely above and beyond the call of duty."