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Tourists missing as plane crashes

Story Highlights

• At least 20 feared dead as charter plane crashes in Cambodia
• Plane was flying from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville, 2 popular tourist spots
• Contact with plane lost 5 minutes before it was due to land
• Czechs, South Koreans, Cambodian and a Russian among the passengers
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PREY PEAY, Cambodia (AP) -- Search and rescue teams combed the jungles of southern Cambodia on Monday night, looking for a passenger plane with 22 people on board that crashed earlier that day while flying between two popular tourist destinations, officials said.

The plane, a Russian-made AN-24, crashed in a mountainous jungle area, and rescuers were still searching for it nine hours after it disappeared, they said.

The plane had been flying from Siem Reap -- where the famous Angkor Wat temple complex is located -- to Sihanoukville, a coastal city with access to beaches, said Him Sarun, Cabinet chief for the Secretariat of Civil Aviation.

An official at Siem Reap airport said 13 of the passengers were from South Korea and three were Czech.

The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press, said the plane carried a crew of five Cambodians and a Russian co-pilot. An earlier incorrect report that the plane also carried five Cambodians as passengers was the result of a misunderstanding, said Sith Sakal, head of the aviation secretariat's security department.

"It is 100 percent certain that the plane has crashed but we still do not know who might have been killed or who might have survived," Sith Sakal said.

The plane belonged to a small Cambodian airline called PMT Air, which began flying from Siem Reap to Sihanoukville in January.

The airport official said contact with the plane was lost at 10:50 a.m., five minutes before it was due to land. Him Sarun said the crash site is thought to be between Kamchay and Bokor mountains in Kampot province, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) southwest of the capital, Phnom Penh. But he added that it had not yet been located by rescue teams.

"I have received information from environmental workers based on Bokor mountain who said they had spotted a plane crash" from a distance, said In Chiva, the Kampot province police chief, noting that the area is in a thick forest.

Rescue teams, comprising mostly soldiers and police, were searching the area, but their efforts were hampered by the remoteness of the area, darkness as night fell, and slippery soil caused by recent rains, making trails impassable for vehicles, he said.

Five ambulances were sent to the general area of the crash, but it was not clear how far they could proceed in the difficult terrain.

According to the PMT Air Web site, the airline also flies within Cambodia to the remote northeastern province of Rattanakiri from the capital, Phnom Penh. Its fleet includes two AN-24s.

Currently, the airline flies two routes from South Korea to Cambodia -- Seoul to Siem Reap and Busan to Siem Reap -- according to South Korea's Ministry of Construction and Transportation.

The ministry said there is no South Korean investment in the carrier, which the Web site says is owned by the Cambodian company, Progress Multitrade Co. Ltd.

South Korea had the highest number of tourists to visit Cambodia last year -- some 221,000 South Koreans were among last year's total of 1.7 million foreign visitors, according to statistics from Cambodia's Tourism Ministry.

South Korean officials confirmed that 13 of its citizens were on board the aircraft.

Kim Young-chae, an official at the consular division in Seoul of the South Korean Foreign Ministry, said the government considered the people to be "missing." He did not provide the names of the passengers.

He also said the government would dispatch officials on the next flight out of Seoul to Cambodia to help deal with the matter, and added that South Korea has asked for Cambodia's cooperation through its embassy in Seoul.

The last major air crash in Cambodia was in 1997, when a Vietnam Airlines Tupolev TU-134B crashed while trying to land during a rainstorm at Phnom Penh International Airport after a flight from Vietnam. One passenger -- a toddler -- survived while 65 others were killed.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


story.angkorwat.afp.jpg

Aerial view of the Angkor Wat temple complex near Siem Reap

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