• Destroyed chopper’s debris found in Lasbela’s Musa Goth, says ISPR
• Crash occurred due to bad weather; locals helped spot wreckage at 12:30pm on Tuesday
• President, PM and others express condolences

KARACHI/QUETTA: Six Pakistan army officials, including Commander XII Corps Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali, were announced martyred after the wreckage of their helicopter, earlier reported missing since Monday night, was found on Tuesday in Musa Goth, a hilly area in Winder town of Balochistan’s Lasbela district.

In a brief statement, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) blamed bad weather for the crash. “The wreckage of the unfortunate helicopter, which was on flood relief operation, was found in Musa Goth, Winder, Lasbela (district). All six officers and soldiers … embraced shahadat (martyrdom),” the ISPR tweeted.

Initial investigations suggested the accident occurred due to bad weather, it said, adding that more details would follow.

Besides Lt Gen Ali, the other martyred officers included Pakistan Coast Guards Director General Brig (approved Maj Gen) Amjad Hanif; Commander Engineers XII Corps Brig Muhammad Khalid; Maj Saeed Ahmed (pilot); Maj Muhammad Talha Manan (co-pilot); and crew chief Naik Mudassir Fayyaz.

Civilian authorities depend heavily on the army during natural calamities. Fierce monsoon rains and deadly flooding have hit Pakistan hard this year, particularly in Balochistan. At least 478 people have died so far, including 136 in Balochistan.

The military reported a little before 11pm on Monday night that a helicopter carrying senior army officials had lost contact with air traffic control and gone missing in Balochistan.

Amid anxious wait and prayers from leaders of political parties to celebrities to citizens over social media, the military finally confirmed the fate of the missing chopper on Tuesday afternoon.

Rough terrain

Police officials said rescue teams struggled to locate the helicopter because the mountainous terrain didn’t even have jeep paths and the area could only be accessed by air, on foot or through motorcycles. A lack of cellular network coverage and electricity only aggravated the problem. The police had to engage local volunteers in the search operation.

The helicopter’s wreckage “was found at a place called Haji Musa Goth, which is situated over top of the mountain, some seven to eight kilometres from form the Abbas post of Sakran police,” Tariq Abul Hasan, the only journalist to reach the site, told Dawn.

The difficult terrain was hard to pass, he said. “With no road or thoroughfare for a smooth drive, no source of communication or cellular service signals, and darkness that couldn’t even allow seeing the land, it was a tough job to reach the place.”

The local people helping official teams finally spotted the wreckage at around 12:30pm on Tuesday, Mr Hasan said.

Pervez Umrani, deputy inspector general of Khuzdar Range, told Dawn the bodies of all the six officers were found near the destroyed helicopter.

Officials said the bodies were shifted to Karachi’s Malir Cantonment in the afternoon, where the funeral prayers were offered. The bodies were later dispatched to the native towns of the deceased by C-130.

Lt Gen Ali, who belonged to Lahore, is survived by a daughter and two sons. He was commissioned in the Six Azad Kashmir Regiment in March 1989.

Brig Amjad Hanif is also survived by a daughter and two sons and hailed from Rawalakot, the capital of Poonch district in Azad Kashmir. He was commissioned in the 19 Azad Kashmir Regiment in April 1994.

Brig Khalid of Faisalabad, survived by three daughters and as many sons, was commissioned in the 20 Engineer Battalion in 1994.

Maj Ahmed of Larkana is survived by a son and a daughter, Maj Manan is survived by two sons, and Naik Fayyaz of Narowal is survived by his wife.

Condolence messages pour in

The ISPR’s tweet triggered an outpouring of grief. President Dr Arif Alvi was among the first to react to the incident. He reached out to the army chief and expressed deep grief over the martyrdom of the army officers and soldiers, according to his official Twitter account.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted: “Nation is deeply grieved on the martyrdom of Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali and five other officers of Pakistan Army. They were doing a sacred duty of providing relief to flood affectees. Will remain eternally indebted to these sons of the soil. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.”

In his tweet, PTI chairman Imran Khan called it “tragic news” and recalled his memory of knowing Lt Gen Ali.

“Tragic news about the army aviation helicopter crash and the martyrdom of all six on board. My condolences and prayers to the families of the martyrs. I had the privilege of knowing Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali, whom I found to be a thorough professional and an upright, honest human being,” he said.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, former president Asif Ali Zardari, PML-N Leader Maryam Nawaz and many other leaders expressed their grief and sent condolence messages to the families of the martyred officers.

Published in Dawn, August 3rd, 2022

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