June 26, 2007 / 4:31 AM / 12 years ago

Soldiers comb Cambodian hills for crashed plane

PHNOM CHAK, Cambodia (Reuters) - More than 2,000 soldiers battled through heavy rain on Tuesday to comb jungle clad Cambodian mountains in a search for a plane which vanished carrying 22 people, including 13 Koreans and three Czechs.

Military officials, part of Cambodia's 911 rescue team, wait for the rain to stop before proceeding with the search for an aircraft, which vanished from radar the day before, in Kampot, Cambodia, June 26, 2007. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

But more than 24 hours after the AN-24 vanished from radar screens in the southeastern coastal province of Kampot, searchers had found nothing, civil aviation safety chief Keo Sivorn said.

Nor, despite Prime Minister Hun Sen’s offer of a $5,000 (2,502 pound) reward for finding the plane, a vast sum in the countryside of the still impoverished nation, had anyone come forward with significant information, he said.

“We have found no wreckage or any sign which leads to the crash site,” he added.

The search teams were hampered by heavy rain and difficult terrain in the search for the plane which disappeared on a flight from Siem Reap, home to the famed 800-year-old Angkor Wat temple complex, to the coastal resort of Sihanoukville, Keo Sivorn said.

“You can’t see each other more than 40 metres away” at times and the thick clouds were obscuring vision from helicopters helping search for the plane, which appeared to have gone down in the jungle-clad Kom Chhay mountains, he said.

“The search teams are facing lots of obstacles,” Keo Sivorn said. “The hills are very slippery as well as densely forested.”

Hun Sen headed to Kampot to oversee the search.

“Our hope of finding survivors is slim,” he said. “I am appealing to all, including farmers, who can help us locate the plane, and offering a reward of $5,000 in hard cash.”

Also on board the plane operated by Phnom Penh-based carrier PMT Air were a Russian captain, two Cambodian co-pilots, a Cambodian engineer and two flight attendants.

“We just still don’t know what happened to the plane. The pilot could have managed an emergency landing or could have hit the mountain,” Keo Sivorn said.

“We suspect bad weather might be to blame, but nothing can be certain until we find the plane and analyse the black box.”

Air services between Siem Reap and Sihanoukville reopened in January 2007 after a prolonged hiatus during Cambodia’s civil war.

The resumption of the internal route was touted as another sign of the former French colony’s accelerating recovery from the destruction wrought by Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge during their four years in power from 1975 to 1979.

Cambodia attracted more than 1.7 million tourists last year, most of them drawn to Angkor Wat.

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