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Vietnam Airlines Tu-134 crashes on bad-weather approach at Phnom Penh

David Learmount/London

Vietnam Airlines suffered its fourth serious accident since 1990, when a Tupolev Tu-134B crashed on 3 September during a daylight final approach in stormy weather to Phnom Penh's Pochentong Airport in Cambodia, killing all but two of the 66 people on board.

Although the state-owned carrier's fleet includes 22 Western-built aircraft, the accidents so far have involved Soviet-manufactured types. There were two non-fatal Tu-134 crash-landings, in 1991 and 1996, and, in November 1992, 29 people died when a Yakovlev Yak-40 crashed at Nha Trang, Vietnam. All four events have been final-approach or landing accidents, three in stormy weather.

The 13-year-old aircraft, inbound from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, hit the ground some 300m (980ft) outside the airport boundary. Some witnesses believe that the pilot may have been attempting to go around again. The Cambodian Civil Aeronautics Administration's chief inspector denies statements by airport authorities that the pilot was carrying out a second attempt at an approach when the aircraft crashed. He says that there was no emergency call from the crew. He suggests mechanical problems as the cause of the aircraft's early descent, but gives no evidence for his statement.

On impact, the aircraft broke up, scattering parts widely, and the tail section burned for more than 1h, despite heavy rain. There was a low cloudbase with slight rain at the time of the accident, but heavy rain fell immediately afterwards. Landing aids at the airport were damaged during recent fighting around Phnom Penh, but are believed to have been repaired.

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