By THE SUNDAY NATION
The crash happened at 10.10 am at a field behind Ban Ploen Chan village in Tambon Paklok, near Phuket Airpark in Thalang district.
The crash site is about 500 metres from the Tha Rua-Muang Mai road and is surrounded by rubber plantations.
Local residents who witnessed the crash called the Thalang police station and police. Tambon Paklok Municipality authorities and officials from other agencies rushed to the scene.
Rescuers took two severely-injured passengers, identified later as Adol Samae, 19, and Orawan Jindrat, 18, to the Vachira Phuket Hospital. The two are studying aircraft mechanics at Thalang Technical College.
The pilot and assistant pilot were trapped in their seats and died at the scene. Rescuers had to douse the plane with water for fear of an explosion as they waited for an iron cutter to remove the bodies.
Onlookers were kept away from the scene for fear that their mobile phones would spark a fire due to leaked oil and fuel from the plane.
After the bodies were removed, the pilot was identified as Watana Thinphang-nga, 68, and his assistant as flying officer Narin Thaweewat. Both were special lecturers at Thalang Technical College.
Police said Watana and Thaweewat had taken 30 students from the aircraft mechanics course on a field trip to the private light-plane airport, which is about two kilometres from the crash site.
The plane in the crash was a Jubiru 450 model with the registration HS-PMS and named “Butterfly 05”. Owned by Watana’s daughter, it had just flown in from Lop Buri on March 7.
Suchart Raksangob, the managing director of Phuket Airpark, said Watana took 30 students on a study trip to the airport and then flew the plane with two students.
Suchart said the weather was normal and there were no signs of irregularities before the plane crashed.
The plane took off at 10.05am and it turned back about five minutes later.
Witnesses told police that a strong wind prompted the plane to detour, and it was about to make a second landing attempt when it crashed.
Pichayatida Pityodecha, 40, who witnessed the incident, said she saw the plane fly around the first time and, when it came back, she heard a strange sound. She said the plane seemed to “lose balance” and was flying very low, barely above the tree tops, before it crashed.
Phuket police chief Pol Maj-General Thirapol Tipcharoen said aviation experts had yet to determine the cause of the crash.
Watana used to be a pilot with Thai Airways International and became a special lecturer at the college after his retirement.