A passenger plane flying between two popular tourist destinations in Cambodia has crashed today, with at least 27 people on board feared killed, an aviation officials said.
The plane, a Russian-made AN-24, crashed in a mountainous jungle area, and rescue parties were still searching for it as dusk approached, seven hours after it disappeared, they said.
The plane had been flying from Siem Reap – where the famous Angkor Wat temple complex is located – to Sihanoukville, a coastal city with access to beaches, said Him Sarun, Cabinet chief for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation.
An official at Siem Reap airport said 13 of the passengers were from South Korea, three were Czech, and five were Cambodian. Their names were not available.
The official said the plane carried a crew of five Cambodians and a Russian co-pilot.
The plane belonged to a small Cambodian airline called PMT Air, which began flying from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville in January.
The airport official said contact with the plane was lost at 10.50am, five minutes before it was due to land. Him Sarun said the crash site is thought to be between Kamchay and Bokor mountains in Kampot province, about 80 miles south-west of the capital, Phnom Penh. But he added that it had not yet been located by rescue teams.
“I have received information from environmental workers based in Bokor mountain who said they had spotted a plane crash” from a distance, said In Chiva, the Kampot province police chief, noting that the area is in a thick forest.
He said he has sent police to remote districts of the province to look for the crash site.
According to the PMT Air Web site, the airline also flies within Cambodia to the remote north-eastern province of Rattanakiri from the capital, Phnom Penh.
Currently, the airline flies two routes from South Korea to Cambodia – Seoul to Siem Reap and Busan to Siem Reap – according to South Korea’s Ministry of Construction and Transportation.
The ministry said there is no South Korean investment in the carrier, which the website says is owned by the Cambodian company, Progress Multitrade Co Ltd.
South Korea had the highest number of tourists to visit Cambodia last year - some 221,000 South Koreans were among last year’s total of 1.7 million foreign visitors, according to statistics from Cambodia’s Tourism Ministry.
South Korean officials confirmed that 13 of its citizens were on board the aircraft.
Kim Young-chae, an official at the consular division in Seoul of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said the government considered the people to be “missing.” He did not provide the names of the passengers.
He also said the government would dispatch officials on the next flight out of Seoul to Cambodia to help deal with the matter, and added that South Korea has asked for Cambodia’s cooperation through its embassy in Seoul.
The last major air crash in Cambodia was in 1997, when a Vietnam Airlines Tupolev TU-134B crashed while trying to land during a rainstorm at Phnom Penh International Airport after a flight from Vietnam. One passenger – a toddler - survived while 65 others were killed.