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Hot-air balloon drama

A balloon comes down near houses
A balloon comes down near houses on Monday morning, Dec. 03, 2012. Photograph: Simon Hare

A new hot-air balloon company in Siem Reap has had two dramatic landings within three days, which caused several eye witnesses to report that the balloon had crash-landed.

Witnesses said that an untethered yellow hot-air balloon operated by the Chinese-run company, Cambodian Flight Holiday International Travel, crash-landed in two separate incidents on Saturday and Monday.

But a spokesman for the company said the balloon came down in a controlled, but possibly forced landing.

He said, “It was landing, not falling down. We’re not crashing or anything. Just landing. Some of the people looking at the balloon landing think the balloon is falling because they are only used to seeing a tethered balloon.”

But he added that if the balloon began to fly outside of its permitted area, a forced landing was affected.

He said, “We are forced to land before we get outside the area of the government limit.”

On Saturday morning a balloon emblazoned with the Cambodian flag and the words ‘Cambodia Angkor’ landed on a mostly-vacant lot near Wat Polanka.

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Asyre, a shopkeeper, said the balloon landed on her property shortly after sunrise.

“There were five people on board – the pilot and four passengers. They were all Chinese,” Asyre said.

“They landed here, and then men came and took the balloon away.”

She said no passengers appeared to be injured, but they were quickly taken away.

“After they came and gave me a box of Angkor beer and two t-shirts,” she added.

An anonymous Khmer 440 web forum user also witnessed the landing.

“It ended up inside my neighbour's yard, with tourists in it and all. Miraculously no-one was hurt,” the user said on line.

The Khmer 440 user messaged Insider and said, “The fact that they've only just started operating and have already been involved in at least one accident raises obvious questions about the wisdom of permitting passenger flights in what are essentially uncontrolled aircraft in the immediate vicinity of Angkor Wat.”

The second incident happened on Monday morning when the hot air balloon landed between Samaki Market and Wat Polanka.

Simon Hare, marketing manager of NGO Globalteer witnessed the incident and managed to take photos before the balloon disappeared from view.

He told Insider, “I went out on the balcony because it was nice and cool and then I heard this whoosh. I looked up and there was this giant yellow balloon over the garden.

“Then it floated toward Wat Polanka. It just went over Samaki market and then it kept firing the flame. It was trying to gain height and it wasn’t working.

“The next thing the basket got down below the level of the trees. It seemed to be sinking straight down rather than horizontal. The whole thing went down and then it disappeared. It was in trees. It definitely wasn’t planned.”

An official from the Siem Reap Tourism Police who works at Angkor Wat temple archeological park said that he didn’t know about the incidents.

Bun Tharith, Deputy Siem Reap Governor said that he didn’t know about this matter either, but he did know about the company.

He said, “This Chinese balloon company has not yet received its license to fly. I think they may just be testing how to fly over the Siem Reap area.”

The Phnom Penh-based travel agency Cambodian Travel Partners has been promoting special deals on the new balloon service.

The agency is advertising rates of $125 per person for a 40 minute ride.

The owner of the agency Andre Ruys says he is unaware of any mishaps and says tickets are still available.

“They have more than 20 years of experience in China,” Mr Ruys said.

The service has two scheduled balloon rides a day – one at sunrise and one for sunset.

Some residents have mistakenly believed the balloon belonged to Sokimex’s tethered Angkor Wat helium balloon, which has had no reported accidents.

Thik Kaliyann contributed to this report.

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