MUZAFFARABAD, Oct 8: A brigadier and three other people were killed when a Pakistan army helicopter crashed near here on Monday after developing a ‘technical fault’.

Eight others on board were injured.

The Russian-built Mi-17 chopper was escorting President General Pervez Musharraf to the border town of Chakothi for the ground-breaking ceremony of the Chakothi-Muzaffarabad highway and inauguration of some other projects on the second anniversary of the October 8 earthquake.

Sources said the helicopter developed a technical fault when it was hovering over Majhoi village, about 18 kilometres south of here, and soon went down in an uninhabited area along the right bank of River Jhelum.

“The helicopter suddenly changed its sound. I realised that it had developed some serious technical fault and may hit the ground anytime,” Khateeb Shah of Majhoi village told Dawn.

He praised the pilot for saving the densely-populated village and crash-landed in an uninhabited place on the other side of the river.

Hundreds of villagers from Majhoi and Ghori rushed to the place to carry out rescue work.

“Initially what appeared to be a minor fire soon engulfed the helicopter and gutted it,” said Nasir Qureshi of Ghori village.

But before that, he said, the villagers had already rescued the injured people and retrieved the four bodies.

Many villagers also kept pouring water from the nearby river on the smouldering wreckage which was later cordoned off by police and army, another villager said.

Some witnesses said that as the chopper neared the ground, many on board, including President Musharraf’s official spokesman Maj-Gen (retired) Rashid Qureshi, jumped out which helped them escape with major injuries.

ISPR director-general Maj-Gen Waheed Arshad told newsmen that the helicopter’s engine had backed up and because of that it immediately went down.

“The pilot made a crash landing. Once he did that the rear portion of the helicopter caught fire,” he said.

Five of the survivors, including Mr Qureshi, are said to have received bruises and minor burns, but three others suffered serious burn injuries.

They were immediately taken by villagers in private vehicles to a clinic in Garhi Dupatta, five kilometres off Majhoi.

Later, they were brought to Muzaffarabad in ambulances and after initial treatment in the CMH were flown to the CMH Rawalpindi.

The four killed are: Brigadier Zahoor Ahmed, Sepoy Rashid (SSG), Naik Ajmal and PTV cameraman Mohammad Farooq. Their bodies were flown to Rawalpindi in an army helicopter.

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