Vietnam Airlines Flight 815

Vietnam Airlines Flight 815 was a scheduled Vietnam Airlines flight which crashed on final approach to Pochentong International Airport in Cambodia on 3 September 1997. The Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-134B-3 airliner crashed approximately 800 metres (2,600 ft; 870 yd) short of the Phnom Penh runway, killing 65 of the 66 people on board. As of February 2024, it remains the deadliest accident in Cambodian history.[1] Upon investigation, the crash was determined to have been the result of improper actions by the pilot.

Vietnam Airlines Flight 815
VN-A120, the aircraft involved in the accident, at Don Mueang International Airport in 1992.
Date3 September 1997 (1997-09-03)
SummaryControlled flight into terrain due to pilot error
Site800 metres (2,600 ft; 870 yd) short of runway 23 of Pochentong International Airport, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
11°32′47″N 104°50′38″E / 11.5464°N 104.8440°E / 11.5464; 104.8440
Aircraft typeTupolev Tu-134B-3
OperatorVietnam Airlines
IATA flight No.VN815
ICAO flight No.HVN815
Flight originTan Son Nhat International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
DestinationPochentong International Airport, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Survivors1 (2 initially)

As of December 2023, the route between Tan Son Nhat and Phnom Penh has the flight number VN920 and is usually operated with Airbus A321 aircraft.[2] Flight 815 nowadays is designated to a route between Tan Son Nhat and Siem Reap, also operated using Airbus A321 aircraft.[3]

Aircraft edit

The aircraft was manufactured on 5 October 1984, registration number VN-A120, serial number 66360.[4]

Accident edit

Flight 815 departed Ho Chi Minh City around 1 o'clock in the afternoon for the 45-minute flight to Phnom Penh. The aircraft was approaching the Phnom Penh airport from the east in heavy rain. According to acting airport director and investigating committee chief Sok Sambour, the plane was supposed to be flying at 14,000 feet (4,300 m) when it began its approach, but was at 10,000 feet (3,000 m) when it reached the range of Pochentong's Non-Directional Beacon (NDB).

The airport previously had a VOR/DME located on station, but it had been looted the previous July.[5] Because of this pilots had to use the NDB located 5 kilometres (3.1 mi; 2.7 nmi) west in order to get a general fix of the area, and had to keep descending until they could make visual contact with the airfield in inclement weather. As a result, the frequency of aborted landings had increased over the rainy season. The runway lights had also been looted, but were reportedly replaced and illuminated at the time.

Immediate aftermath of the crash

Once in range of the NDB, the pilot asked the control tower for permission to land at 5,000 feet (1,500 m). The control tower agreed, but requested the pilot remind the control tower often of its approach, due to the heavy weather. However, when the plane approached the airport it was at 3,000 feet (910 m) when the pilot again asked for permission to land, stating that he could not find the runway. The pilot was given permission to drop to 2,000 feet (610 m) and was told to keep in contact.[6]

After a moment the control tower inquired if the pilot had found the runway, to which the pilot replied that he could not see the runway. The control tower then informed the pilot that the wind direction was changing. The pilot was on an eastern approach to runway 23; the tower requested that the pilot instead approach runway 5 from the west. Continuing on the eastern approach would cause the pilot to attempt to land downwind. The pilot acknowledged the request, and had no further contact with the control tower.

Another angle of the crash site with bodies could be seen near the wreckage

Two minutes later, Flight 815 was spotted still approaching from the east. The plane kept descending until it was 200 feet (61 m) above the ground. The cockpit voice recorder (CVR) showed at that time the first officer, Hoang Van Dinh (49), asked the captain, Pham Van Tieu (59), to pull up and abort the landing, as they still did not have visual of the runway. The captain said he would wait a little. The plane descended to 100 feet (30 m), still with no visual of the runway, at which point the first officer and the flight engineer, again asked the captain to abort the landing. It was too late, however; four seconds later the left wing of the plane struck a palm tree. At that time they were not in line with the runway, having veered left across the military side of the airport. Striking the tree caused one engine to stop. The right wing skimmed across a house. The plane tilted to the left and hit the ground at 270 kilometres per hour (150 kn; 170 mph).

Eyewitnesses state that flames began to spew out of the plane's tail after it struck the tree. One witness states he saw an emergency door open and could see passengers crowded at the door, but none jumped before the airplane struck the ground. The aircraft then slid 200 yards (600 ft; 180 m) through several dry rice paddies before exploding at around 1:40 pm.[7]

Victims edit

Nationality Passengers Crew Total
Taiwan 22 0 22
South Korea 21 0 21
Vietnam 2 6 8
Hong Kong 4 0 4
Cambodia 3 0 3
Canada 2 0 2
China 2 0 2
Australia 1 0 1
Japan 1 0 1
Macau 1 0 1
United Kingdom 1 0 1
Total 60 6 66[7]
Rescue workers at the crash site

Most of the passengers were from South Korea and Taiwan. The 22 Taiwanese nationals were mainly coming for business reasons, though two or three were travelling to Cambodia for their weddings. Six of the 21 South Koreans were a medical team donating equipment to Phnom Penh University.[8][9]

Five people were still alive after the crash and were taken to the hospital. Initially two survived; Chanayuth Nim-anong, a 14-month-old boy from Thailand who sustained broken legs, and a four-year-old Vietnamese boy who received head injuries. Nim-anong was the sole survivor after the Vietnamese boy succumbed to his injuries.[10][11] The plane skimmed the top of a house and damaged it before landing on an oxcart road. One wing decapitated two cows. Initial looting of the scene was done by military and police. Once the bodies were removed, villagers looted much of the remaining personal belongings and parts of the aircraft including the flight recorders.

Investigation edit

Cambodia's government offered a reward for the return of the missing flight recorders.[12] The three flight recorders, the CVR, the flight data recorder (FDR), and the quick access recorder (QAR), were all obtained from the villagers for US$10, $200, and $1500, respectively.[7][13][14][15][16]

Initially Vietnam Airlines and Phnom Penh airport workers argued over who was at fault. The airline stated that the navigational equipment at Phnom Penh airport was out of order and its control tower gave the pilots incorrect information prior to takeoff. However, the report by Cambodia's Aircraft Accident Investigation Committee determined that the cause of the crash was pilot error.[17] The report concluded that the principal factors were:

  • the captain did not follow the instructions of the approach controller in the control tower and he made the decision to continue to descend in very bad weather
  • the captain ignored the advice of his first officer and flight engineer
  • the captain's insistence in engaging the auto pilot even after passing the minimum height at which one should decide whether or not to land
  • the captain's impulsive actions to continue his approach in the conditions revealed "his psychological unreadiness to abort the landing and go around"

The captain continued his landing descent from an altitude of 6,600 feet (2,000 m) to 100 feet (30 m) even though the runway was not in sight, and ignored pleas from his first officer and flight engineer to turn back. When the aircraft hit the trees, the captain finally realized the runway was not in sight and tried to abort the approach; the flight engineer pushed for full power, but the aircraft lost control and veered right; the right engine then failed, making it impossible to gain lift. The aircraft subsequently stalled and crashed.[1]

Examinations of the aircraft and records determined that there was no mechanical problem and all maintenance was up to date. The crew all had valid licenses and medical certificates.[18][19][20]

References edit

  1. ^ a b Ranter, Harro. "ASN Aircraft accident Tupolev Tu-134B-3 VN-A120 Phnom Penh-Pochentong Airport (PNH)". Aviation Safety Network. Flight Safety Foundation. Retrieved 2019-05-02.
  2. ^ "VN920 (HVN920) Vietnam Airlines Flight Tracking and History". FlightAware. Retrieved 2023-12-02.
  3. ^ "VN815 (HVN815) Vietnam Airlines Flight Tracking and History". FlightAware. Retrieved 2023-12-02.
  4. ^ "REGISTRATION DETAILS FOR VN-A120 (VIETNAM AIRLINES) TUPOLEV TU-134B-3". Planelogger. Retrieved September 22, 2021.
  5. ^ Scroggins, Hurley (1997-09-26). "Crash plane unable to use navigation gear". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  6. ^ Scroggins, Hurley; Sotheacheath, Chea (1997-09-12). "We can't see the runway". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2019-12-13.
  7. ^ a b c Scroggins, Hurley; Sotheacheath, Chea; Moorthy, Elizabeth; Chaumeau, Christine (1997-09-12). "Fatal flight – the story of VN815". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  8. ^ In-yong, Lee; Choi, Yulmi (1997-09-04). "베트남 민항기 캄보디아 프놈펜에서 악천후로 추락[안성일]" [Vietnam civil aircraft crash in bad weather in Phnom Penh, Cambodia]. MBC News (in Korean). Retrieved 2019-11-14.
  9. ^ "[베트남 항공기 추락사고]항공사 무성의에 분통…대책본부 유족표정" [[Vietnamese aircraft crash] Infuriated by airline silent... Response Headquarters Bereaved Expression]. JoongAng Ilbo (in Korean). 1997-09-05. Retrieved 2020-12-23.
  10. ^ Moorthy, Elizabeth (1997-09-12). "Mad dash saves boy plucked from flames". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  11. ^ "Vietnam plane crashed due to pilot error: Report". Indian Express Limited. Associated Press. 1998-05-27. Archived from the original on 2013-01-30. Retrieved 2019-06-02.
  12. ^ McDowell, Robin (1997-09-04). "Looters may have taken flight recorder from Cambodian crash". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  13. ^ "Cambodians Loot Recorder in Crash Fatal to 64". The New York Times. Reuters. 1997-09-05. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  14. ^ McDowell, Robin (1997-09-05). "Farmers return looted flight recorder in Cambodian crash". AP NEWS. Retrieved 2019-02-07.
  15. ^ "Cambodians Return Looted Flight Recorder". The New York Times. Associated Press. 1997-09-06. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-02-07.
  16. ^ "Villagers return flight recorder". Deseret News. 1997-09-05. Retrieved 2019-12-08.
  18. ^ Sainsbury, Peter (1998-06-05). "Crash victims await payout". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  19. ^ Staff, Post (1998-06-05). "The last words of Flight 815". The Phnom Penh Post. Retrieved 2014-01-13.
  20. ^ Learmount, David (1997-09-10). "Vietnam Airlines Tu-134 crashes on bad-weather approach at Phnom Penh". FlightGlobal. London: Flight International. Archived from the original on 2014-07-24. Retrieved 2019-02-07.

External links edit