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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Second air crash grounds Antonovs

Second air crash grounds Antonovs

As investigators await the findings from the black boxes recovered from two plane

crashes in the last five months, Cambodia's State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA)

has grounded the aging Russian-made fleets of both airlines indefinitely.

PMT Air and Imtrec Aviation Ltd both received notice from the SSCA on October 23

that their separate fleets of Antonov aircraft were grounded pending the results

of the investigations.

The latest crash came October 17 when an Imtrec AM-12 cargo plane carrying garments

to Singapore crashed 20 km from Phnom Penh Airport in bad weather. Five people aboard

were injured, but not seriously. Initially a pilot surveying the scene the next morning

told the Post the crash was a result of lightning striking the plane.

The PMT An-24 passenger plane crashed June 25 in bad weather over Bokor Mountains

killing all 22 people aboard. The plane was carrying 13 South Korean tourists from

Siem Reap. Pilot error has been discussed as a likely factor in the crash, but the

results of the investigation have not been released.

Imtrec's Antonovs are now parked in their usual spots in the military section of

Phnom Penh International Airport, said Imtrec spokesman John Rico.

"Our operation is suspended for the time being," said Rico. "We have

nothing to say at this moment. I can't say what caused the crash. The proof will

come with the results from black box."

"After two accidents so close together we have some doubts about the manufacturer

and we need some clarification, so we asked international experts for advice,"

said Chea Aun, director General of the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation Cambodia,

explaining the decision to ground the fleets. Cambodia has simply been unfortunate

to have two accidents so close together, Aun said.

"We try our best. We can't say 100 percent that we are safe, that we will have

no crashes, but we are always trying to optimize our safety records," he said.

"The aircrafts that operate in Cambodia are not the responsibility of Cambodia

alone," he said.

The investigation into the June PMT Air crash is now in its fifth month, but no results

have been announced. The plane's black box was recovered and has been sent to Russia

for analysis.

The black box was also recovered from the October 17 crash of the Imtrec Aviation

Ltd. cargo plane that went down in a rice field in Kandal. That box has been given

to Cambodian investigators but also will have to be sent to Russia for decoding.

There are a number of similarities between the two crashes. Both planes were Russian-made

Antonovs from the 1960s operated by locally registered airlines using Uzbeki pilots.

Both occurred during bad weather.

The South Korean media, in particular, blamed the PMT crash with the South Korean

tourists aboard on pilot error, citing a recording it said to have obtained of the

final conversation between the pilot and the control tower.

As for the second crash, Imtrec pilot Ali Shar told the Post that lightning struck

the An-12, causing two engines to lose oil. He said the pilot attempted to return

to Phnom Penh airport, but the other two engines also quit.

Local aviation experts said that lightning strikes are always possible. "But

even if you shut off all the electricity a turbo prop engine will still run. I don't

know why they would lose all four engines," said Emile Kundig, a pilot who has

been flying small aircraft in Cambodia for four years with the Missionary Aviation


Kundig was critical of the length of time the investigation into the PMT crash is


"You cannot tell me it takes five months to find out the results of the black

box," said. He also raised questions about the maintenance of the planes. He

said that maintaining old Russian-made aircraft in Cambodia is not necessarily easy

because the maintenance documents are often in Russian and it can be difficult to

get parts.

"This is the case in many countries in the area where the Soviet Union had influence.

It is a hang over. The airplanes are everywhere. They are cheap to have, but you

need foreigners to make them run as locals do not know the language."

Getting good aircraft mechanics locally can be difficult, said Kundig. "The

pool is very small," he said. "Companies sometimes try to find people in

the army."

Kevin Treloar, general manager of Helicopters Cambodia, said individual companies

and their own "culture of maintenance" is most important. "It is a

misconception that age is bad. Maintenance is key."

"As long as you operate and maintain as a manufacturer specifies, then there

will be no problems," he said.

He and Kundig both said everyone will have to wait for the black box data to be disclosed.

"You can easily speculate about why four engines stopped. There are procedures

to follow and as long as investigation is thorough and transparent then it will all

come out," said Treloar.



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