GILGIT: Ambassador of Philippines Domingo D Lucenario Jr, Ambassador of Norway Leif Larsen and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors were among seven people killed in a helicopter crash in Naltar Valley in the Gilgit-Baltistan region on Friday.
Two pilots and a crew member were among those killed when the Pakistan Army helicopter crash-landed on a school in Naltar Valley, Director-General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major-General Asim Bajwa said. Media reports identified the two pilots as Major Altamash and Major Faisal.
Injuries were also reported from the incident in which Dutch ambassador Marcel de Vink and Polish ambassador Andrzej Ananicz were injured.
|Map showing MI-17 helicopter crash site. ─ Dawn GIS|
Bajwa said that six Pakistanis and 11 foreigners were on board the MI-17 helicopter.
The convoy comprised three MI-17 helicopters, one carrying foreign diplomats, one carrying the prime minister and his staff and a third one with senior military officials, Bajwa said.
AFP quoted a statement by the Prime Minister Office as saying that Premier Nawaz Sharif was on a plane, not helicopter, en route to the Gilgit area at the time of the incident, but turned back to Islamabad after news of the crash broke.
A top regional administration official told AFP that the premier was due to inaugurate a chair-lift project at a ski resort in Naltar Valley.
The crashed helicopter was carrying a delegation of ambassadors to inspect projects on a three-day trip to Gilgit-Baltistan, where the foreign envoys were set to meet with the prime minister.
What caused the crash?
Speaking to DawnNews after the incident, DG ISPR said the helicopter crashed due to a technical fault and ruled out the possibility of any terrorist or subversive activity.
He, however, said that as per procedure, a board of inquiry has been constituted to investigate the cause of the crash.
|Flame and smoke rises from the site where a military helicopter crashed in Gilgit. - AP|
Moreover, the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) claimed that the incident was the result of an attack it carried out however this could not be independently verified.
Pakistan Air Force spokesman Group Captain S M ALI, however, strongly ruled out the possibility of any terrorist act behind the crash of M-17 helicopter near Gilgit.
"No, there was no such (terrorist) act. I am witness to the accident, as I had also landed there a while before this unfortunate helicopter crashed — I was watching it land," Ali told Dawn.com on phone from Naltar.
Group Captain Ali said that due to inclement weather the C-130 operation, which was supposed to bring dead bodies, has been deferred till tomorrow. “PAF is in touch with army and Foreign Office for making arrangements,” he added.
|This file photo shows Polish ambassador Andrezej Ananicz (C) with his wife (L) and Ambassador of Norway Leif Larsen (R). — Dawn/File|
Transporting bodies, injured
Shortly after the incident, the injured were taken to the emergency ward of the Combined Military Hospital in Gilgit, hospital officials said.
|Soldiers stand guard outside the Combined Military Hospital where victims of a helicopter crash were brought for treatment in Gilgit on May 8, 2015. — AFP|
Moreover, arrangements were being made by the Pakistan Air Force to bring the bodies of the ambassadors and the wives of two other envoys to Islamabad.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Office in Islamabad has informed the respective governments about the tragic incident.
|Pakistani soldiers gather beside an army helicopter at a military hospital where victims of a helicopter crash were brought for treatment in Gilgit. — AFP|
|This picture could not be independently verified.|
According to a list of passengers obtained by AFP, the ambassadors of Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Romania, Norway, South Africa, the Philippines and Poland were scheduled to fly on the helicopter.
A passenger in one of the helicopters told AFP that the air convoy was supposed to have included four helicopters but the number was later reduced to three.
“It was a diplomatic trip with members of 37 countries in total,” said the passenger who requested anonymity, adding that the school had caught fire after the crash but no children were in class at the time.
“The school, built by Pakistan Air Force for the children of the area, was closed as part of a security plan for the prime minister's visit,” he said.
|File photo of pilots Maj Altamash Shaheed and Maj Faisal Shaheed who embraced Shahadat when a helicopter crashed at Naltar.-APP|
PM declares one day of mourning
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has extended heartfelt condolences on the sad demise of the two ambassadors and the spouses of two other envoys who died in today’s incident and has declared one day mourning in relation to the incident.
He also expressed concern over the conditions of the injured diplomats and prayed for their speedy recovery. He directed concerned authorities to provide the injured diplomats with the best medical treatment.
The premier also directed authorities to dispatch planes and helicopters to evacuate the injured diplomats and transport the bodies to Islamabad.
|People visit the embassy of the Philippines where the national flag is at half-mast mourning the reported death of Ambassador Domingo Lucenario Jr in Islamabad. —AP|
Additional reporting by Baqir Sajjad Syed
History of MI-17 crashes in Pakistan in recent years
Dawn's past inquiries have revealed that the Russian-made military transport helicopter can carry 32 people, or an equivalent weight of 4,000 kilograms.
The military is hard-pressed with few transport helicopters, most of them aging.