A MIL MI-17 Hip operating on behalf of the United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) crashed on landing at Siem Reap Airport in north western Cambodia on March 20, seriously injuring five of the 23 on board. The helicopter had just completed a flight from Phnom Penh and was approaching to land at about 0830hrs when the pilot lost control at 30-35ft (9- 10m) above the tarmac. After spinning for three or four complete rotations, the helicopter crash-landed heavily on the tarmac. Eyewitnesses reported seeing a tail rotor blade separate from the helicopter — this would be consistent with the rotating motion experienced before the crash. Five crew members and 18 passengers on board, including 14 journalists, were able to scramble out of the helicopter through the front and rear exits. They were taken to on UNTAC field hospital in Siem Reap. Most had only minor injuries, but five were more seriously hurt.
The helicopter had been ferrying the journalists on the lost day of a week-long tour around Cambodia at the invitation of UNTAC chief, Yasushi Akashi, to inspect the UN’s work. Following the crash, all 20 Hips employed by the UN in Cambodia were grounded pending an investigation into the apparent tail rotor problem. As the MI-17 is the main transport for the 22,000-strong UN contingent in the country, this will seriously hamper logistic and re-supply operations.
Loss of the Mi-17 was the second major accident involving UNTAC helicopters in three weeks — on February 27 an Mi-26 Halo also suffered a mechanical failure on approach to land and crashed at Stung Treng Airport in northwest Cambodia. UNTAC helicopters have also come under threat from ground fire, with at least 26 instances recorded of helicopters being hit since UNTAC was established a year ago.