Norway, Philippines ambassadors among 8 killed in Gilgit helicopter crash

Published: May 8, 2015


PHOTO: MAHA MUSSADAQ/EXPRESS PHOTO: MAHA MUSSADAQ/EXPRESS Philippines ambassador Domingo D Lucenario Jr and Norwegian envoy Leif H Larsen. PHOTOS: NORWAY.ORG.PK/APP Around 11 foreigners and 6 Pakistani passengers were on board. STOCK IMAGE

GILGIT: The ambassadors of Norway and Philippines and six others were killed when an army helicopter crashed in Naltar area of Gilgit on Friday, according to Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR).

Norwegian envoy Leif H Larsen, Philippines ambassador Domingo D Lucenario Jr, wives of Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors and two pilots were killed in the incident while Polish ambassador Andrzej Ananiczolish and Dutch ambassador Marcel de Vink sustained injuries. The Mi-17 helicopter crashed on a school, which officials said was closed at the time.

The delegation was on its way to inspect projects on a three-day trip to Gilgit-Baltistan where they were set to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The military and Foreign Office said the crash was due to a technical fault while landing. “The matter will be investigated as initial reports suggest it was a technical fault,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.

A statement by the PM office said Nawaz was on a plane en route to the Gilgit area at the time of the incident, but turned back to Islamabad after news of the crash broke. The prime minister was due to inaugurate a chair-lift at a ski resort, one of the region’s top administrative officials told AFP.

The premier “expressed deep grief and sorrow” and announced a day of mourning, according to his office. Further, Army chief General Raheel Sharif also sent his condolences to the bereaved families.

Polish ambassador Andrzej Ananiczolish and Dutch ambassador Marcel de Vink were also injured, the army said. The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs confirmed Vink’s injury.

The Indonesian foreign ministry in a statement confirmed the death of the ambassador’s wife, Heri Listyawati Burhan Muhammad, but said that Ambassador Burhan Muhammad was safe though he had sustained injuries.

It was one of the worst air crash in the history of the country since 2012 when a Boeing 737 passenger plane went down in Islamabad, killing 130 people.

In 1988, a plane crash killed then military-ruler General Ziaul Haq as well as the US ambassador at the time, Arnold Raphel.

A local police official on duty near the site told AFP: “I was watching the helicopters arriving, they were coming since the morning, it was their third or fourth trip.

“One helicopter suddenly whirling at its place and went down with a bang, then there were flames.”

An emergency medic who was deployed nearby ahead of the inauguration ceremony said the helicopter only exploded and caught fire after landing.

“The pilot was gesturing at us to come and help him. We rushed there, broke the windows, and started dragging people out.

“After some minutes, there was an explosion, injuring some of the medics too.”

Two other eye-witnesses interviewed by AFP also said they did not see the chopper being hit by a missile.

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.

“It was a diplomatic trip with members of 37 countries in total,” said a passenger in one of the helicopters, who requested anonymity, concurring that the school had caught fire after the crash.

The passenger added that the air convoy was supposed to have included four helicopters but the number was later reduced to three.

The Russian-built Mi-17, used by air forces across the world, has had a patchy safety record in recent years.

In the city of Gilgit, the region’s administrative capital, some 50 kilometres to the southwest, a hospital official said the injured were carried on stretchers to the emergency ward of the Combined Military Hospital.

Before takeoff 

Our correspondent, Maha Mussadaq sends us an exclusive photo of the helicopter before it took off in the morning, earlier today:

List of participants who were visiting Gilgit between May 8 – May 11


Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif expresses grief over pilots’ loss

Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif has expressed his deepest regrets over the passing of Major Altamash and Major Faisal. He also condoled with the families of the victims in the crash.

“It is sad day for all of us and our heart goes out to the bereaved families at this sad moment,” he said.

No terrorist activity involved in crash: DG ISPR

Ruling out any involvement of terrorist activity in the crash, DG ISPR Asim Bajwa told The Express Tribune, that this crash may have occurred due to technical faults in the MI17 helicopter.

“We are conducting an inquiry into the matter. This is in no way an act of terrorism,” he said, adding that all possible angles behind the accident will be investigated.

Another security official said that it is highly unlikely that terror motives were behind the crash, since the area is not known to be a militant stronghold.

Norway expresses ‘great sadness’ over death of ambassador

Norway has expressed “great sadness” over the death on Friday of its ambassador to Pakistan in the deadly helicopter crash, AFP reports.

Leif Larsen, 61, was “one of our best and most experienced diplomats” who was “very respected by his colleagues,” Foreign Minister Borge Brende told reporters, adding that his Pakistani counterpart had told him the causes of the crash were not fully known yet.

The foreign minister spoke today with Sartaj Aziz.

Larsen has worked in the foreign service since he started as trainee in 1984. Larsen was special envoy for Pakistan and Afghanistan before he was appointed as ambassador to Pakistan last September.

Larsen leaves behind a spouse and a son.

Crisis Management Cell established

To deal with the calamity following the crash, a Crisis Management Cell (CMC) has been established at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Adviser to the Prime Minister on National Security and Foreign Affairs said.

The contact details of the CMC are as follows:

Tel: +92-51-9217828 & +92-51-90569161

E-mail: [email protected]

Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister expresses grief

In a statement, the chief minister of Gilgit-Baltistan, Shah Jehan Mir expressed his shock over the tragic incident and prayed for the early recovery of the injured.

He also visited Combined Military Hospital (CMH) to inquire about the health of the injured.

In his message, Mir condoled with the families of the victims as well. The government of Gilgit-Baltistan has announced a day of mourning in wake of the incident.

According to our correspondent, Shabbir Mir, a witness saw five ‘injured men’ being brought in stretchers to CMH.

“There were at least five people who were being brought on stretchers by security officials,” he said.

I saw the helicopter swing and fall: eye witness

An eye witness told our correspondent Maha Mussadaq that he saw the helicopter swing and fall into a crash – causing what he said was the loudest sound he had ever heard.

The eye witnesses further said they had to break the windows of the helicopter to retrieve the passengers. The helicopter did not have any seat belts, according to him.

“Saw fire from a distance”

Recalling her experience, a journalist on board another helicopter said she saw fire from a distance.

“I saw fire from a distance and knew this was big,” Dure Najaf told The Express Tribune.

“I am extremely saddened and shocked by the incident,” she added.

Number of casualties rise

According to DG ISPR Asim Bajwa, the death toll from the crash rose to seven. A Pakistani crew member also succumbed to injuries.

According to the Army, the crash occurred due to a technical fault.

Eye witness account of the crash

A witness said strong winds were blowing when the helicopter crashed on the school.

“I saw the chopper going down. The wind was quite strong when this happened,” said a senior government official, who is in Naltar as part of his duty, according to our correspondent Shabir Mir.

Area cordoned off

Security forces have cordoned off the area of Naltar where the Mi-17 helicopter crashed.

“Naltar and its surrounding areas had been cleared by security agencies three days ahead of the prime minister’s visit as part of his security,” an official said on condition of anonymity, our correspondent Shabir Mir reports.

Moreover emergency has been declared in hospitals in Gilgit, 40 kilometers from the place of incident.

PM announces one day of mourning

Taking notice of the incident, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has announced a day of mourning in wake of the loss.

Further, the PM has directed for arrangements to be made to transport bodies to Islamabad.

Further injuries reported

Reports have revealed that the ambassadors of Romania and Lebanon have been injured.

High commissioners of South Africa and Indonesia have also been injured, Express News reported.

Pilots, Major Faisal and Major Altamash have died as a result of injuries.

Heading back to Gilgit

Passengers who had reached Naltar, are now heading back to Gilgit city, our correspondent Maha Mussadaq reports.

Soldiers gather beside an army helicopter at a military hospital where victims of a helicopter crash were brought for treatment in Gilgit on May 8, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Injured shifted to CMH

A senior police official told AFP that the injured were being air lifted to a military hospital in Gilgit.

A hospital official said injured were being carried on stretchers to the emergency ward of the Combined Military Hospital.

Soldiers stand guard outside a military hospital where victims of a helicopter crash were brought for treatment in Gilgit on May 8, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Several envoys on board 

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.

School building damaged 

As the picture below shows, the helicopter – carrying 17 people – crashed into a school building.

AFP reported that no children were inside the school when the crash took place.


Tourism trip 

Our correspondent Maha Mussadaq said the delegation left from Nur Khan airbase in Rawalpindi and arrived in Gilgit at 9:45am.

The trip was mainly organised for tourism purposes, however, the ambassadors were expected to hold high-level meetings, including one with the G-B chief minister.

Reason for crash not known yet

Fifty-seven people, including 32 men, 20 women and five children were on their way to Naltar, Gilgit on a Foreign Office-organised trip when one of the three helicopters crashed on the way.

Our correspondent Maha Mussadaq, who was part of the delegation and was travelling in the helicopter right behind the one that went down, witnessed the scene of the crash.

The helicopter is said to have crashed into Army Public School in the area. The cause of the crash is yet to be known.

Ambassadors killed in crash

“One MI-17 helicopter out of 3 carrying visitors had a crash landing at Naltar, ” Director General of Inter Services Public Relations (DG-ISPR) Asim Saleem Bajwa tweeted.

Philippines ambassador Domingo D Lucenario Jr and Norwegian envoy Leif H Larsen. PHOTOS: NORWAY.ORG.PK/APP

Foreigners among dead

Around 11 foreigners and 6 Pakistani passengers were on board. Soon after the incident, rescue teams arrived at the site.

PM cancels trip

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was scheduled to visit Gigit to attend an inauguration ceremony. However, following the incident, the prime minister cancelled his trip and expressed deep grief and sorrow over the tragic incident, Radio Pakistan reported.

He directed the authorities to employ all available resources to transport the injured to hospitals and provide best medical care.

Helicopter crashes in Gilgit

Initial reports suggested that the helicopter was designated for PM Nawaz’s security and taking a delegation of foreign diplomats and their aides to Gilgit.

“According to the first information we received, three people have been injured, their condition is critical,” a police official in Nomal village of the Naltar valley told AFP.

A journalist who was travelling in a separate helicopter said she saw the helicopter crash into a school and it was on fire.

Facebook Conversations

Reader Comments (60)

  • [email protected]
    May 8, 2015 - 12:43PM

    Tragic News. May Allah keep every one safeRecommend

  • Malveros
    May 8, 2015 - 12:54PM

    What were the foreigners doing in the helicopter if the helicopter was monitoring security situation ?Recommend

  • Sad PakistAni
    May 8, 2015 - 1:53PM

    It’s a very sad incident. But it is a wake up call for foreigners for using Pakistan maintained helicopters or planes. A good example is overseas Pakistanis avoid Pakistani airlines while traveling to Pakistan.Recommend

  • PakWatan
    May 8, 2015 - 1:56PM

    If this is traced back to India, there must be consequences. Recommend

  • Someone
    May 8, 2015 - 2:04PM

    @Malveros: It’s a tragic accident and sometimes tragic things happen. The pilots did not crash the helicopter on purpose. Instead of pointing fingers over an accident, we should instead express condolences and solidarity with the relatives of the deceased. A full inquiry should be conducted to determine what caused the accident.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    May 8, 2015 - 2:11PM

    Tragic News. May Allah keep every one safeRecommend

  • ABKhan
    May 8, 2015 - 2:12PM

    @Sad PakistAni:

    By putting “Pakistani” at the end of your name couldnt hide your ID. Shame on you Indians for point scoring even at this sad moment. You should check the track record of your Indian maintained helicopters crashes and Pakistani maintained. Recommend

  • Mayuresh
    May 8, 2015 - 2:17PM

    @Pakwatan sure even if it doesn’t rain in pakistan this year, trace it to india. We are waitng for consequences.Recommend

  • wb
    May 8, 2015 - 2:25PM

    This is not a crash. The helicopter was shot down. This is a terrorist attack.

    India is definitely involved in this. India is trying to prevent white people from visiting Pakistan.Recommend

  • Wajid
    May 8, 2015 - 2:30PM

    For GB election Nawaz Sharif has dare to kill the foreign Ambassadors too.
    Yesterday Nawaz Sharif order to army I need many helicopters for for my visit to GB , and that visits was part of election campaign by announcing projects for GB to win the elections.

    Pak army has fixed 5 helicopters last night for Nawaz Sharif election campaign for upcoming GB election.
    Army did not have proper checkup of helicopters before election campaign of Nawaz Sharif as he order army in hurry.

    to start project before election is forbidden by ECP , but Nawaz Sharif are violating these rules and using 10 army helicopters for election campaign .Recommend

  • TightPatloon
    May 8, 2015 - 2:32PM

    Clearly this has a RAW hand in it. Pakistan must take this up in UNRecommend

  • Philosiraptor
    May 8, 2015 - 2:32PM

    @Sad PakistAni:
    Indian DetectedRecommend

  • ahmed wani
    May 8, 2015 - 2:38PM

    But what were they doing in disputed areas of GB and pok….RIP…May allah have mercy on them…amenRecommend

  • Islooboy
    May 8, 2015 - 2:40PM

    The Jet oil just finished while the helicopter was in the air!!!Recommend

  • YAs
    May 8, 2015 - 2:44PM

    @malverous, did u bother to read the column prior to speak up. Recommend

  • shaafay
    May 8, 2015 - 2:46PM

    Disappointed in the army. Immensely. Dammit.Recommend

  • Khan UK
    May 8, 2015 - 2:49PM

    if it was TTP, how did they got hold of such sophisticated missile system. I am sure they cant make one in Darah Adam Khel. This looks more than just an accident because army helicopters on such high profile duty are thoroughly checked before every flight. Also how TTP knew PM Nawaz Sharif was to travel in one of these helicopters? Recommend

  • Timorlane
    May 8, 2015 - 2:52PM

    Very sad.

    May they rest in peace.Recommend

  • The Truth is Out
    May 8, 2015 - 3:00PM

    This is a high profile assassination. Such high profile visitors can’t be boarding on a damaged or poor helicopter so there is very low chance of engine or technical failure. And who is going in the helicopter is highly classified information to which Taliban can’t have access to. There is absolutely no doubt that enemies of Pakistan are behind this. I guess Indian and US ambassadors were not on board? US is highly unlikely to kill their Christian fellows, so India is the only player left. Recommend

  • Sonya
    May 8, 2015 - 3:01PM

    a sad event for Pakistan. This is yet another reason why we should continue fighting the foreign backed terrorism in Pakistan. By foreign i do not mean only India but other brother islamic countries.Recommend

  • Nash
    May 8, 2015 - 3:14PM

    No mention of the well-being of the school children… are they less important as compared to these foreigners? Recommend

  • Malveros
    May 8, 2015 - 3:16PM

    Yes and the newspapers need to stop their erroneous breaking news that they were giving out initially.Recommend

  • Malveros
    May 8, 2015 - 3:18PM

    U are talking rubbish. Get your facts straight first. This has to do with opening up of new projects not elections in GB.Recommend

  • Sam
    May 8, 2015 - 3:24PM

    The downside of using cheap Chinese spare parts. May their souls rest in peace.Recommend

  • indian
    May 8, 2015 - 3:26PM

    This is a wake-up call for international community. Avoid Pakistan.Recommend

  • Malveros
    May 8, 2015 - 3:27PM

    These Russian MI helicopters have a very poor performance record. Has anyone in our air force done a long-term study on them ? This is not the 1st crash. There have been at least four crashes earlier in the past few years. These helicopters need to be grounded as they cannot operate optimally in severe weather conditions especially where there are strong winds either in the mountains or in desert sand storms.Recommend

  • indian
    May 8, 2015 - 3:34PM

    Like it happened after attacks on Srilankan cricket team , international community will boycott Pakistan. You get what u deserve. Failure of pak govt, army and its society. Recommend

  • marcopolo
    May 8, 2015 - 3:39PM

    t’s a very sad incident.RIP….Recommend

  • Sarwar
    May 8, 2015 - 3:44PM

    @The Truth is Out:

    I think your mental illness reached at the level that needs attention. You always seek India behind in any incident happened in pakistan. I am sure you may have somewhere in your mind that MQM caused this damage.Recommend

  • Robert
    May 8, 2015 - 3:46PM

    Have you ever flown in this helicopter it is more reliable than Western helicopters. Please do weigh before making any commentsRecommend

  • yasmin
    May 8, 2015 - 4:05PM

    Very sad to hear about the tragic incident occurred in Naltar.Indeed it s a big loss and this loss is unforgettable. They were flying for a good cause and for the betterment of humanity. We pray for the departed souls, May Allah almighty rest their souls in eternal peace. And may the survivors get quick heal and recovery. AmeenRecommend

  • Asim
    May 8, 2015 - 4:08PM

    Its time that army upgrade to Zero-Defect Standard.Recommend

  • Bob
    May 8, 2015 - 4:11PM

    All these commentators blaming India for this and everything else, should seriously have their brains investigated, if at all present.Recommend

  • Dr.M.M.Khan
    May 8, 2015 - 4:20PM

    For God’s sake let us not jump to conclusions.Recommend

  • Bobb Mack
    May 8, 2015 - 4:23PM

    You do not have to wait, U are already kept bleeding from your az…..Recommend

  • Saad
    May 8, 2015 - 4:25PM

    Why? Helicopter crashes only happen in Pakistan?Recommend

  • Kolsat
    May 8, 2015 - 4:25PM

    @wb: what the f you are talking about? Did not the Taliban claim responsibility for this? The adage just as you sow as so shall you reap is very true here. Taliban was promoted armed by Pakistan and US to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan and now you are reaping the results of that. India has nothing to do with this shooting and you know it. So just keep quiet and think of ways of destroying this serpent. Remember the quote of Hillary ClintonRecommend

  • Adeel MIrza
    May 8, 2015 - 4:26PM

    Indeed, a great diplomatic loss for Pakistan, RIP !Recommend

  • Saad
    May 8, 2015 - 4:28PM


    First of all you should do it and stop leaving comments on Pakistani newspapers. Recommend

  • Bobb Mack
    May 8, 2015 - 4:31PM


    It is likely that schools in the area are normally closed on Fridays.Recommend

  • MJ
    May 8, 2015 - 4:39PM

    *Mourning not MorningRecommend

  • Muhammad
    May 8, 2015 - 4:45PM


    We do not take this to UN when we have your favourite Lakhvi to sort this one out for us !!Recommend

  • Waseem
    May 8, 2015 - 4:52PM

    I have travelled in the region and used helicopters several times. Never experienced any issue whatsoever. Pilots were always highly skilled. In my views its either wind factor or engine malfunction. It is an accident and it happens the way usage has extensively increased.Recommend

  • Azhar Shah
    May 8, 2015 - 4:55PM

    How idiots are the people blaming army for the crash and some thinking of it as indiam funded TTP attack. Guys such crash incidents do happen. I gave been aviation expert at USA and Europe for around 16 years. In fact high profile crashes have occurred due to technical faults. Just to give u all recent example is the crash of Jordan king heli. Also to let the Indians here know, dont laugh too much.. ur army aviation is pathetic. I remember the amercians used to make fun of them lolRecommend

  • WatDa!
    May 8, 2015 - 4:56PM

    @indian:You are just confirming their fear of Indian involvement. Pak has an excellent record of aircraft service engineers. Helicopters Crash daily around the world, even in advance countries for many reasons. I am sad it fell on the public school. Hopefully there was no casualty on ground.Recommend

  • Faisal Ayub
    May 8, 2015 - 4:57PM

    our prime minister was the target of this RAW funded operation
    India wants To engage Pakistan in another war as Chinese president has announced a mammoth investemt plan
    The best course of action would be take this matter to the UNRecommend

  • Truth detector
    May 8, 2015 - 4:58PM

    It is a very tragic incident. Our hearts & prayers go to the victims & their families. But it is very nauseating to see some comments by Indians. Simply reflect their disgusting mentality.

    This is a wake-up call for international community. Avoid Pakistan

    Yes, & go to ‘rape tourist resort country’to the east.Recommend

  • Farhan
    May 8, 2015 - 5:02PM

    Totally shocked. Senior officers be made to pay this incompetence. Sad loss of life and give bad image for the capability of Pakistani air force. Training of pilots must be reviewed and incompetents thrown out.Recommend

  • Munir Ahmed
    May 8, 2015 - 5:26PM

    It was not wise decision by the govt. Of Pakistan to have meeting with those high profile peple in that area and Pakistan. Govt. Know the outer forces how much money spending to defame the country and already they have so many proofs who n how they are working to destabilize this country, it’s I think very well understanding some countries want to see this as a crippled country, beside all this first Pakistan army should create peaceful atmosphere in the country then they should suggest foreigners to have these meetings in these areas.Recommend

  • Tony Singh
    May 8, 2015 - 5:37PM

    “First of all you should do it and stop leaving comments on Pakistani newspapers.”

    Why don’t you advise the board of this newspaper not to publish online addition? If the newspaper has an online addition, then everybody has right to express his/her opinion on it. You don’t like it? Get lost. Simple.Recommend

  • saad
    May 8, 2015 - 5:39PM

    school was closed.Recommend

  • ZAK
    May 8, 2015 - 5:41PM

    Sad and tragic incident.Condolences to deceased families.Recommend

  • shahid
    May 8, 2015 - 5:46PM

    Very sad news indeed. May the departed souls rest in peace. Not surprised to see our neighbours show their true colours here. Anyone still interested in friendly ties with these people needs to open his eyes. After shameless reporting on a much deserved blow back on NEPAL Quake, they’ve stooped even lower on this.Recommend

  • saad
    May 8, 2015 - 5:46PM

    @ahmed wani:
    its not disputed area. check your facts before u speak.Recommend

  • saads
    May 8, 2015 - 5:48PM

    @indian: r u abandoned by your country???no other work to do?Recommend

  • Ranjan
    May 8, 2015 - 5:49PM

    Came here to see pakistanis blame India for this. Was not disappointed.

    ET, please publish your terms and condition, and guidelines for you comment if you decide to shoot down this comment. You choose to publish many disputable comments but often shoot down the innocuous comments. Hard to guess what’s your policy if there is any.Recommend

  • Ram Dargad
    May 8, 2015 - 6:04PM

    Why do you have to make such comment & expose your narrow mind. Helicopter crashes happen in our India too. Recommend

  • Orator
    May 8, 2015 - 6:06PM


    Don’t you think you are short of deliberation and intend to run. This newspaper is read out internationally that provides opportunity to exchange views and understand each other. Have patience and gather and present your views in appropriate manner.Recommend

  • Toba Alu
    May 8, 2015 - 6:09PM

    Regret loss of life. But as usual an unnecessary risk for Ambassadors on a touristic trip just covered by a so-called high level meeting for the show. Just look at the countries they represent. Recommend

  • May 8, 2015 - 6:11PM

    First and foremost we send our heartfelt condolences to all nations affected by this tragic accident. Our prayers go out to the families who lost loved ones including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines. We hope and pray for the early and complete recovery of all injured in this tragic helicopter crash.

    Abdul Quddus
    DET – U.S. Central CommandRecommend

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