Two generals, two pilots die as helicopter crashes in Cambodia
Two generals who led the helicopter unit of Cambodia's air force were killed in a crash yesterday, along with two pilots, police said.
Defence Minister Tea Banh, who rushed to the crash site in a muddy pond south of the capital, said a fifth person on the chopper was seriously injured.
General Um Phy, deputy chief of staff of Cambodia's air force, said the aircraft was a Chinese-made Z-9 helicopter.
It was not clear what caused the accident, which police said was a training mission for new pilots.
Two of the dead men were a major general and a brigadier general, Phnom Penh deputy police chief Chuon Narin said. The generals were the head and deputy head of the helicopter unit, and the other two were pilots.
The chopper went down about 10km south of Phnom Penh, sinking in a rain-filled excavated rice field surrounded by rural land.
Defence Ministry Secretary of State Moeung Samphan said 300 military personnel were sent to take part in the recovery operation. By evening, all four bodies had been recovered, said Um Phy.
The main part of the helicopter's fuselage, whose cabin was badly mangled, was retrieved and taken to air force headquarters for inspection, he said.
Cambodia last year took delivery of 12 of the Z-9 helicopters, a licensed version of France's Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin which can carry nine passengers in addition to a pilot. The aircraft were purchased with a US$195 million loan made to Cambodia in 2011 by China, the closest ally of the Southeast Asian nation.
The choppers were meant to replace a small fleet of ageing Soviet-made transport helicopters. The deal with China was made as Cambodia was engaged in intermittent border warfare with neighbouring Thailand, but it was unclear if any were fitted as attack helicopters, which would be the first ever in Cambodia's arsenal.
A witness said she saw helicopters flying the same route almost every day, but the doomed flight seemed to be flying lower than usual, almost hitting her house.
Ath Neang, 48, who lives about 15 metres from the pond, said that as one of the craft's rotor blades hit the bank of the pond, one man jumped out into the water. She then heard what sounded like an explosion from the aircraft, which then sank.