LAHORE: Reports run by television channels that a helicopter of the Punjab government had crash-landed in Afghanistan’s Logar province on Thursday caused alarm among the crews’ families, but officials assured them that their relatives were safe.

“Their safety has been confirmed,” said Punjab Additional Chief Secretary Shamail Khawaja, who heads the air transport section of the provincial government.

(But news agency reports claimed that the seven people on board had been taken hostage by the Taliban, who are in control of Logar province).

According to officials, the Punjab chief minister and the chief secretary were in touch with Pakistan Army and the Foreign Office, seeking information about the crew and the helicopter.

Shamail Khawaja, the additional chief secretary, said there were seven people on board the MI 17 helicopter, which was bound for Russia for a periodic overhaul. He identified them as chief pilot Col Safdar (retired), co-pilots Col Shafique (retired), Maj Safdar (retired) and Lt Col Nasir (retired), cabin crew Daud Ahmad and Muhammad Kausar, and Russian navigator Sergey Sevastyanov.

Officials of the provincial government said the 16-seater Russia-built helicopter was bought by Punjab in 2004-05 and its last overhaul was conducted in Russia in 2011-12.

The helicopter had left the Lahore airport at 7am on Thursday for Peshawar, where it was refuelled. From there it left for its next destination in the Afghan province of Logar, where it crash-landed. From Logar it was scheduled to leave for Russia after refuelling.

The Russian navigator was guiding the crew to their final destination and the provincial government had obtained assurances from Afghan officials about a safe passage for the helicopter through their airspace, an official said.

Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2016



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