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Burmese authorities promise investigation into fatal plane crash

The Burmese government said on Wednesday that it has formed a commission to investigate Tuesday's crash-landing of an Air Bagan airplane in southern Shan State which left two people dead and 11 others injured, official media reported.

Business as usual—Air Bagan's flight W9-011 took off as scheduled from Heho airport at 9:35 am on Wednesday, a day after the crash, carrying tourists and other passengers to Rangoon. (PHOTO: Xiao Ting Shirley / Mizzima)The incident has immediately raised questions about the safety standards of Burma’s outdated but overstretched aviation industry at a time when foreign tourist arrivals appear set to increase markedly in the wake of democratic reforms in the country and the lifting of Western sanctions.

The 22-year-old Fokker 100 crash-landed in thick fog on Tuesday morning in a rice field some distance short of the runway at Heho Airport, the gateway to popular tourist destination Inle Lake.

According to official reports, Air Bagan flight no. XY-AGC was carrying six crew members, 48 foreign passengers and 17 local passengers. It departed from Mandalay International Airport for Heho at about 8.28 am, and was forced to attempt an emergency landing on a road at about 8.51 am.

According to state-run The New Light of Myanmar: “The plane hit [the] Kalaw-Aungthabye 66 KVA power grid that links from east to west about one mile from Heho airport runway and trees on Taunggyi-Meiktila roadside and then hit the ground as mist covered the runway.”

Burmese officials said that the plane’s tail broke—presumably on impact with the power line or the trees—and caught fire. As it crash-landed, a motorcyclist on the ground was killed.

An air hostess reacted quickly, reports say, in opening an emergency door which allowed the passengers to flee the burning aircraft.

The body of the aircraft was almost entirely burned while part of a wing was seen lying next to a nearby road, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

One Burmese tour guide on board was killed, and at least 11 passengers were hospitalized. Air Bagan said that two injured Americans were flown to Bangkok for treatment. Two Britons, one South Korean and the two pilots were among the injured hospitalized in nearby Taunggyi.

“We are still working to find out the cause,” Civil Aviation Department Deputy Director General Win Swe Tun, who is heading the investigation into the crash, told AFP at Heho Airport.

“Air Bagan deeply regret the deaths of two persons and tender its condolences to the bereaved families,” the airline said in an English-language statement posted on its Facebook page.

“Air Bagan in collaboration with the Ministry of Transport is investigating into the cause of the accident. We will take full responsibility for all passengers and will release further information as we [receive] it.”

The airline is owned by Burmese tycoon Tay Za, who was blacklisted under US and EU sanctions and was previously described by the US Treasury as a “notorious regime henchman and arms dealer.”

The ill-fated aircraft was XY-AGC Fokker 100, which staged its inaugural flight in February 1991. The aircraft was purchased by Air Bagan in 2005.

Meanwhile, the incident does not appear to have affected Air Bagan flights to and from Heho Airport. A Mizzima reporter confirmed that Air Bagan flight W9-011 took off as scheduled from Heho at 9:35 am on Wednesday, the day after the crash, carrying tourists and other passengers to Rangoon.

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