The principal male dancer of a Washington-based group of Cambodian dancers that is the successor to the former Royal Classical Khmer Ballet died yesterday at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center of injuries he suffered in an auto accident Monday.

Nuth Rachana, 42, of 11509 Elkin St., Wheaton, suffered massive head injuries in the wreck that killed Nou Sovannaro, also a member of the troupe.

Rachana, who came to this country in 1980, was one of the first three male dancers admitted in the 1960s to the former royal dance company, which had been all female throughout its 1,000-year history.

His training for the ballet began while he was a small boy. Rachana lived in the Cambodian royal palace for many years before he was allowed to join the royal company, according to Joe Wilson, of the National Council for the Traditional Arts, the group's primary sponsor in this country.

"He once told me he lived in the wilderness for five years" in his flight from the Khmer Rouge, which overtook the Cambodia government in 1975, Wilson said last night.

"He was a great spiritual leader of this group," Wilson said, and was the choreographer of the "candle dance," a Hindu tradition-inspired dance performed often by the troupe.

Sek Sophal, driver of the auto that ran into a tree near the intersection of 16th and Montague streets NW, has been released from the Washington Hospital Center. Heng Viphas remains in stable condition in the center's shock-trauma unit.