Norway, Philippines ambassadors among 8 killed in Gilgit helicopter crash

Army rules out terror involvement in the crash, says incident being interrogated from all angles


PHOTO: MAHA MUSSADAQ/EXPRESS

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


COURTESY: SHABBIR MIR



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.



PHOTO: MAHA MUSSADAQ/EXPRESS





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.

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COMMENTS (60)

US CENTCOM | 6 years ago | Reply 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 Command
Toba Alu | 6 years ago | Reply 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.
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