Seven tourists and two drivers were killed in Battambang province on Monday when a truck attempted to overtake a car at high speed and slammed head-on into a Mekong Express minibus.
The minibus was carrying 11 passengers to Phnom Penh when the cargo truck veered into its path on National Road 5 in Mong Russei district, said San Kimsan, chief of the provincial police’s traffic bureau.
“At that time, it was raining and the truck was overtaking another car while accelerating,” Mr. Kimsan said, adding that the crash occurred at about 3:30 p.m.
Because the truck was a right-hand drive model—the legality of which remains ambiguous—its driver had to steer all the way into the oncoming lane to see the traffic ahead, he said.
The head-on collision completely destroyed the front end of the Mekong Express bus, leaving mechanical wreckage spilling from the driver’s compartment, photographs from the scene show.
The impact spun the bus into a ditch on the side of the road, trapping the wounded among the dead, while the truck driver was flung from his seat and onto the road, Mr. Kimsan said.
District police chief Kit Heang said four Cambodian passports were found among the bodies at the crash site in Prey Touch commune, all stamped for entry into Thailand, meaning they likely left Thailand earlier in the day before crossing into Cambodia via Poipet City.
He said authorities had not yet identified the other victims, and were unsure of their nationality.
Mr. Kimsan said the bodies were being kept at the commune’s Kon Klong pagoda, while the survivors were sent to the provincial referral hospital.
Representatives of Mekong Express in both Battambang and Phnom Penh declined to comment.
“I’m not hiding information. I’m not privy to information that I can give out yet. For now, it isn’t really clear,” said a woman who answered the company’s Battambang number, refusing to identify herself.
“You’ll have to contact the authorities yourself.”
Among Cambodia’s accident-prone bus companies, Mekong Express is considered one of the more reliable.
Just last month, however, 37 passengers—including 29 foreigners—were injured when a Mekong Express bus overturned in Svay Rieng province after the driver fell asleep at the wheel. At the time, an assistant to the company’s president acknowledged that the accident was likely to hurt its reputation among foreign tourists.
And in October, two people were killed when a Mekong Express van plowed into a parked truck in Battambang while on its way from Phnom Penh to Poipet City. In that case, police also speculated that the driver had fallen asleep because there were no skid marks on the road.
The Battambang to Phnom Penh route along National Road 5 has proved treacherous for other operators as well.
In April, eight people were killed and 25 critically injured when a P.S Transportation bus swung into the oncoming lane and hit a tow truck—again, police said, because the bus driver had nodded off.
soumy@cambodiadaily.com
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