Balloon Crashes at Angkor; Nine Tourists Injured

A hot air balloon carrying 17 foreign tourists over the Angkor temple complex in Siem Reap province lost control in strong winds and came crashing to the ground in a hard emergency landing Tuesday, injuring at least nine of the people on board, officials confirmed Wednesday. 

Chao Mao Vireak, Siem Reap provincial immigration police chief, said that two of the tourists were seriously injured in the balloon crash and that a Chinese company called Cambodia Flight Holiday International operated the balloon.

“The others left the hospitals because they only sustained light injuries,” he said, adding that the two seriously injured were still receiving treatment at the Royal Angkor International Hospital and a private clinic in Siem Reap.

The balloon was about 300 meters off the ground on Tuesday evening when control of the craft was lost in high winds, the Russia Today news service reported Wednesday.

The crash was caused by unexpectedly strong winds, which hit the Siem Reap area late in the afternoon, said Mok Sam Onn, Siem Reap City police chief.

“The wind was very strong that day, which was not common,” Mr. Sam Onn said.

Of the 17 passengers onboard the balloon, 12 were Filipino, three were Chinese nationals, one was Ukrainian and one was from an unspecified European country, according to a police report of the incident released Wednesday by the provincial security office.

In a statement Wednesday, immigration police identified the two seriously injured as Filipinos Andro Mikael Ainza, 26, and Jesy Chrisopher Cruz, 28.

Mr. Ainza fractured his left hip and dislocated his arm and Mr. Cruz has broken his pelvis.

Vannak Pet, a nurse at the Royal Angkor International Hos­pital, said that as well as Mr. Cruz, six tourists from the balloon crash were admitted to the hospital Tuesday night with minor injuries.

“One patient who was admitted to the hospital last night…has a fracture of the pelvis bone,” he said.

Mr. Mao Vireak said that he did not know who would be responsible for compensating the tourists who were onboard the hot air balloon and that many of the injured had already been discharged from hospital.

“I don’t have details…so I can’t comment on this now,” he said.

A woman who answered the phone for Cambodia Flight Holiday International in Siem Reap declined to comment on the balloon crash and said that her boss was out of the country.

Chum Iek, secretary of state at the Ministry of Tourism, said balloons were not his area: “I am responsible for the boats and ships, but not balloons.”

With the number of tourists visiting Cambodia increasing last year by 25 percent to 3.5 million compared to the previous year, the safety of tourists visiting Cambodia has come to the fore recently.

On Saturday, a Japanese wom­an died after the front carriage of a roller coaster dislodged at an amusement park in Siem Reap City. In March last year, a tourist bus crashed in Koh Kong, injuring 40 people and killing a Rus­sian woman and an Austrian man. Last month, the naked body of a murdered French woman was found on a riverbank in Kampot province. And in June, a 19-year-old female Dutch tourist was shot in the leg by bag snatchers in Phnom Penh.

Ho Vandy, co-chair of the government-private Sector Working Group on Tourism, said that the hot air balloon crash and cases of dead and injured tourists would not have a lasting effect on Cambodia’s tourism industry, as long as solutions were found and such incidents did not repeat themselves.

“All aircraft should take care of [safety] because this is a very important issue,” he said.

He added that, as more tourists come to the country, meetings should be held at the Tourism Ministry on at least a monthly basis to find solutions to safety issues for tourists.

“The number of visitors is up and up, but some small issues are still happening. [We need] to take that issue, to create a policy to minimize the problems,” Mr. Vandy said.

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