Ill-Fated RCAF Chopper Dangerously Overloaded, Some Say

Passengers and aviation ex­perts said Sunday the RCAF helicopter that crash-landed near the historic Preah Vihear temple last week was dangerously overloaded.

According to Alain Henry de Frahan, an aviation expert and former editor of a monthly de­fense magazine, the Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter that crashed Wednesday before detonating at least one land mine likely did so because there was too much weight on board.

“I’m afraid the chopper was a little bit overloaded,” Henry de Frahan said. “It could explain why the chopper was difficult to handle and could not land accurately where [the pilot] aimed.”

Seung Somnang, deputy commander of the air force, said the helicopter can safely carry about 27 people. But passengers and Siem Reap Military Airport staff said at least 30 people were on the flight.

“It crashed because it was overloaded and it was affected by the natural winds,” Seung Somnang said.

Co-pilot Koy Tha said last week that precarious winds were to blame for the helicopter tipping over upon touch down.

The aircraft carried soldiers, a British diplomat, high-ranking RCAF personnel and at least 10 journalists. They suffered minor injuries.

“First, when I heard that there were over 30 people, I immediately thought about the huge Mi-26 chopper,” said Henry de Frahan, referring to a 60-passenger helicopter.

Some of the journalists spent the night at Preah Vihear when a follow-up flight could not accommodate all of those who wanted to return to Siem Reap.

The temple fell into government hands March 29 when the Khmer Rouge division res­pon­sible for the area de­fected.

While airport staff said the helicopter was not over­loaded, passengers be­lieve it may have contributed to the crash. Other factors, they said, may have included the high winds and the pilot’s choice of an unsafe landing area.

“It was a very bad choice of parking spot,” said David van der Veen, a photographer for Agence France-Presse.

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