CrashJuly 23, 2007
Something actually happened in Cambodia in June – an airplane crashed, killing 22 – mostly Korean tourists. From what I can ascertain, a company (named ‘PMT’; let’s not make any quips about flying in the wrong time of the month) with a far greater concern for profit than safety is largely to blame. Par for the course; that this was the first such disaster in ten years is surely due in the main to luck and the relatively low number of flights within the country. The elderly Russian aircraft was flying through a vicious tropical storm; the Uzbek pilot veered off the flight path and dropped down under the clouds into the fog to try to see where he was going and bumped into a mountain.
You might detect from the writing style that I haven’t mindlessly cut and pasted this from a news report, but here is a 100% accurate extract of the verbatim transcript: ““We are flying at an altitude of 2000 feet.” (pilot) “You are flying too low. Given your current location, you should move to an altitude of 4000 feet.” (control tower, Sihanoukville) “It’s no problem; I am familiar with this area.” (pilot)”. There was no further communication.
The company had a seriously dodgy safety record; all UN and UN-affiliated organisations (such as the World Food Programme) had long since forbidden their staff to fly with the airline; the actual Russian plane model had suffered accidents that destroyed the planes no fewer than 125 times before this accident, with well over 1700 fatalities. The best TV coverage that I found was on a channel I never otherwise watch – KBS, the main Korean channel; one of its top reporters and his family perished in the tragedy.
Most of the Cambodians I know were talking about it, vowing never to fly (not that any of them have ever flown before). Even though the Cambodian air traffic controllers knew perfectly well where the mountain was and how to avoid it, the prime minister has pledged that no plane will ever take that flight path again (evidently another went down in the vicinity – in the ‘60s); a new flight path has been drawn up which skirts so far wide of the mountain that the flight time is doubled. I suppose that’s one solution; another might have been to call the company to account and question the lack of technology in a hopelessly obsolete aircraft, and the training of the crew, but so far the government has chosen not to go down that route. I do my best to point out that more people die on the roads in Cambodia every week than have died in airplane accidents in ten years – but we don’t do proportional in Cambodia either.