An Mi-17 helicopter carrying a group of European journalists invited to Cambodia
to observe the U.N. peacekeeping mission crash landed at Siem Reap airport on Mar.
20, seriously injuring several of the passengers.
Initial investigations suggested the crash was the result of a faulty tail rotor
blade and the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) immediately
grounded the fleet of Soviet-built helicopters which have been involved in a series
Nineteen of the 23 passengers and crew were injured when the aircraft plunged to
the ground from a height of about 10 meters after spinning out of control as it prepared
Among the most seriously hurt were Japanese U.N. press officer Junko Mitani, Welsh
free-lance journalist Brian Hansford and Antoni Bokun, a Polish TV journalist all
of whom suffered spinal injuries.
Witnesses said Mitani and Hansford, who were sitting together may have been injured
by the landing gear which crashed through the fuselage when the helicopter hit the
ground. Hansford sustained a fractured vertebra and cracked skull. Mitani had a compressed
vertebra as did Bokun.
UNTAC spokesman Eric Berman said one of the Russian pilots and an Italian journalist
suffered cracked ribs. The other injuries mostly included sprains, cuts and bruises,
American academic Fred Brown, who sprained his back said he believed he was going
to die when the helicopter began to plummet.
"I knew we were had. The centrifugal forces were so great we were tumbling over
each other. There was nothing you could do.
"It was a near thing. I don't know why the damn thing didn't catch fire,"
Ira Chaplain, an American free-lance photographer working for Der Spiegel magazine
said he had similar fears.
"When it crashed there was fuel every where and sparks came raining down from
the roof and we were thinking let's get...out of here.
Despite fracturing his left leg in four places, Chaplain rolled out of the wreckage
and began taking photos of the accident.
He credited the Russian pilot for possibly saving the lives of some of the passengers.
He said the pilot thrust the helicopter forward just moments before it hit the ground,
softening the impact of the crash.
Some of the victims who had been rushed to the hospital reported having money stolen
from their luggage.
Berman said the grounding of the Mi-17s which serve as the main workhorses for shipping
U.N. goods and personnel throughout Cambodia would hamper operations.