ISLAMABAD: Even as a board constituted by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) to investigate the deadly air crash at Naltar began its proceedings, the PAF chief said on Saturday the ill-fated helicopter went out of control just before landing.
The helicopter crash on Friday claimed the lives of seven people including envoys of Norway and the Philippines; wives of the ambassadors of Malaysia and Indonesia; both the pilots and a crewmember.
Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman blamed technical failure for the crash.
“The pilots were seasoned. The base commander was present at the landing site. The helicopter went out of control due to technical reasons moments before landing,” he told the state-run Pakistan Television.
The air chief said the helicopter appeared to behave normally as it approached the landing area.
For his part, South African High Commissioner Mpendulo Jele, who was on board the helicopter but miraculously remained unhurt, said it was an accident.
“It’s an accident that can happen anywhere in the world. Unfortunately we lost some of our colleagues,” he told a news channel.
“There was a major vibration in the air and then the helicopter took a vicious circle. It went up and then went down. In the next moment it just dropped,” he said.
Injured diplomats and their families brought back to Islamabad by C-130
He said it was a miracle that there were many survivors. Twelve passengers survived the crash. In all there were 19 people on board.
Meanwhile, members of the PAF’s inquiry board started their task by visiting the crash site.
Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry had said on Friday the findings of the inquiry would be shared with the countries concerned. However, he did not say if the countries which lost their envoys in the tragedy would be allowed to join the probe.
The Naltar incident was the fifth crash involving the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopters since 2004. Most of the crashes, according to investigations into previous incidents, happened because of technical failures.
Delegations from Manila and Kuala Lumpur were expected to reach Islamabad soon to receive the remains of the ambassador of the Philippines and wife of the Malaysian envoy, who died in the crash.
The widow of the Norwegian ambassador and a delegation from Indonesia were also expected to arrive here shortly.
“A delegation from the Philippines headed by the Under Secretary of Philippines Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the spouse and son of the late ambassador and a delegation from Malaysia consisting of senior officials and daughter of the Malaysian ambassador would be arriving tonight,” the Foreign Office said on Saturday.
The remains of those killed in the crash were brought to Islamabad on board three Mi-17 helicopters from Naltar. The injured and other diplomats and accompanying members of their families returned on a separate C-130 flight.
All services chiefs, Special Assistant to Prime Minister Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Chaudhry were present at the Nur Khan Airbase to receive them.
Members of the Islamabad-based diplomatic corps and heirs of Pakistanis killed in the crash were also present on the occasion.
The coffins, wrapped up in flags of the countries of the deceased, were presented a guard of honour by a contingent of the army and air force. Moving scenes were witnessed during the sombre ceremony at the airbase.
The remains of the dead were moved to morgue of the Combined Military Hospital in Rawalpindi. A source at the hospital said the remains would be handed over after DNA tests of the dead.
“Transportation of the mortal remains to the respective countries of the deceased would be finalised after consultation with the families and officials of the embassies concerned and after completion of all formalities,” the FO said in a statement.
Ambassadors of Indonesia and the Netherlands, who received burn injuries, were moved to Special Burns Unit in Kharian. The Malaysian envoy and the ambassador of Poland and his wife were, meanwhile, being treated at a local hospital.
CONDOLENCE CALLS: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif called his Malaysian counterpart Dato Sri Mohammad Najib to condole the death of Mrs Datin Habibah binti Mahmud, wife of the Malaysian High Commissioner in the crash.
Adviser to PM on National Security and Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz called Philippines Foreign Secretary Albert Rosario to convey condolences on the death of Ambassador of the Philippines Domingo Lucenario.
Both Prime Minister Sharif and Adviser Sartaj Aziz had on Friday spoken to their Norwegian counterparts.
Published in Dawn, May 10th, 2015