Tuesday, 11 November 2008
Phnom Penh Post
Mechanical failure likely caused blaze: officials
A FIRE, most likely the result of a mechanical malfunction, caused the helicopter crash that killed National Police Chief Hok Lundy and three others, investigators said Monday, a day after the death of Cambodia’s controversial top cop who was a key ally of Prime Minister Hun Sen.
“The investigation is completed already. It was a probably mechanical failure that caused the fire and the crash,” Mao Havannall, secretary of state for Cambodia’s Civil Aviation Secretariat, told the Post.
Hok Lundy was travelling to the border town of Bavet, in Svay Rieng province, when aviation officials lost contact with the helicopter he was in.
Officials said that the aircraft ran into bad weather.
“Weather is difficult to predict, and the helicopter was vulnerable to lightning,” said Him Sarun, chief of Cabinet for the Civil Aviation Secretariat, which sent a four-man team to the accident site Sunday evening.
‘A flame appeared at the tail’
A villager in Svay Rieng’s Romduol district, where the crash occurred, said that he spotted the chopper flying through heavy rain around 7:30pm.
“A flame appeared at the tail of the helicopter,” the witness told the Post, asking not to be named.
“About five minutes later the fire had reached the middle of the helicopter, which crashed down into the ground with an explosion,” he added.
He said that authorities reached the site about an hour after the crash, but did not know until the bodies had been brought to the Svay Rieng provincial hospital that Hok Lundy was one of those killed.
RCAF General Sok Saem and two pilots, identified only as Ratha and Sitha, also died in the crash.
“At first, no one recognised who they were until the doctors cleaned their faces, and then we recognised General Hok Lundy and General Sok Saem,” the witness said.
Penh Chea, deputy governor of Svay Tiep district in Svay Rieng, said the four bodies had been badly damaged in the crash, which left a tangle of debris littered across rice fields.
“Only the faces can be recognised,” he said Monday in Phnom Penh, where preparations were under way for the funerals of Hok Lundy and Sok Saem.
Svay Rieng Governor Chieng An also said that a fire brought the helicopter down.
“People saw a fire at the tail of the helicopter and then it crashed to the ground,” he said.
“I am sad to lose him [Hok Lundy], as he did a lot for the province,” said Chieng An.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MAY TITTHARA