'Round, round, round, and there it hit the ground': Envoy recalls moment when chopper crashed

Published: May 9, 2015
Pakistani soldiers lift injured Malaysian ambassador Hasrul Sani Mujtabar into an army helicopter in Gilgit on May 9, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Pakistani soldiers lift injured Malaysian ambassador Hasrul Sani Mujtabar into an army helicopter in Gilgit on May 9, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD: Three ambassadors to Pakistan who survived a helicopter crash that killed seven people have described the terrifying moment the aircraft span out of control before slamming into the ground and catching fire.

Testimonies of diplomats on board from Malaysia, Argentina and the Netherlands released by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on Saturday also unequivocally bolstered government and eyewitness statements that the disaster was an accident rather than an act of terrorism.

Malaysia’s envoy — who was himself injured in the crash — described how the journey had been going according to plan up until the point when they were due to land.

Read: Norway, Philippines ambassadors among 8 killed in Gilgit helicopter crash

“After arriving at Gilgit airport everything went well except for the last few minutes, when the helicopter went into a spiral, round and round and round, and there it hit the ground,” Hasrul Sani Mujtabar said.

“I saw the pilot was killed, some others died instantly and I was in middle. Then a few managed to escape but the fire was very strong,” with smoke quickly filling the helicopter, he said.

The helicopter was one of three carrying a delegation of ambassadors to inspect projects on a three-day trip to the region, where they were set to meet with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

The Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had claimed to have struck the aircraft with a ground-to-air missile hoping to assassinate Sharif.

“(Regarding) remarks and rumours that there was a terrorist attack or that there was sabotage, I can say 99.9 per cent that they were not true, that this was a sad accident, a really unfortunate accident, by a technical fault on the plane,” Argentinian Ambassador Rodolfo Martin Saravia told the air force.

Leif Larsen, the Norwegian envoy, and Domingo D. Lucenario Jr of the Philippines were killed along with the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, the helicopter’s two pilots and another crew member.

Pakistani soldiers carry the coffins of the wife of the Malaysian ambassador and the Norwegian ambassador Leif H. Larsen during a ceremony in Gilgit on May 9, 2015. PHOTO: AFP

Dutch Ambassador Marcel de Vink said he felt “extremely lucky” to be alive after what he had witnessed. He was described as having sustained burns to the leg and face by the foreign ministry.

Read: Civil-military leadership receive bodies of Gilgit crash victims at Nur Khan airbase

“I remember that we got into a spin and so thinking I suppose I braced a little bit for impact… afterwards I was actually opening my eyes seeing the smoke and explosions, so I was extremely lucky because it went incredibly fast,” he said.

Pakistan Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry had told a press conference on Friday that there were 19 people on board the helicopter, of whom 12 were rescued, adding that its black box had been retrieved.

The Indonesian ambassador suffered 75 per cent burns and was in a critical condition, Chaudry had said on Friday.

Arrangements are underway to repatriate the bodies of those killed, and would be accompanied by government officials, the prime minister’s office said in a statement Saturday.

“The ministers would take the dead bodies on special flights as a gesture of respect and to show the importance Pakistan attatches (to) its relations to these countries,” the statement said.

Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman, PAF’s Chief of Air Staff, on Saturday corroborated military and foreign ministry statements that the helicopter had lost control moments before landing due to a technical fault, in comments aired by Pakistan’s state television.

“The MI-17 helicopter was on a routine flight, and the pilots had excellent professional skills. The base commander was himself observing (the) landing of the helicopter,” he said.

Read: Technical glitch: Chopper crash kills two envoys, five others

It was Pakistan’s worst air crash since 2012, when a Boeing 737 passenger plane went down in Islamabad, killing 130 people.

In 1988, then military-ruler General Ziaul-Haq along with US ambassador  Arnold Raphel were killed when the plane they were flying in exploded over Bahawalpur.

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

Known for its spectacular mountain ranges, Gilgit-Baltistan is a strategically important autonomous region that borders China, Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir.

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Reader Comments (4)

  • Iqbal Hadi Zaidi
    May 9, 2015 - 11:16PM

    Well done PM Mian Nawaz Sharif you have undoubtedly won the hearts of thousands for showing so much respect and concern by sending the dead bodies to their respective countries through special flights duly escorted by none but Federal Ministers which shall be highly commended not only in Philippines, Norway, Malaysia and Indonesia but in Pakistan as well to be honest. BTW (a) had PM gone to the crash scene of the helicopter then I bet on my life that he would have been bestowed with the highest gallantry awards from these counties but he lost the opportune or (b) had PM been at the airport receiving the dead bodies as did Gen Raheel Sharif then undoubtedly the effected 4 countries had decorated PM with the highest loyalty medal. I will not at all blame PM Mian Nawaz Sharif but his battalion (platoon is out of question) of ministers and advisors and Mian Shahbaz Sharif not excluded either should now be taken to task, interrogated and punished according the negligence on their part being instrumental in depriving the PM earning with such like honors.
    I salute PM Mian Nawaz Sharif for fluttering Pakistan flag atop. Iqbal Hadi Zaidi / KuwaitRecommend

  • Kiran Farooq
    May 10, 2015 - 2:38AM

    @Iqbal Hadi Zaidi:

    If Nawaz hadn’t plundered billions and built palaces like Raiwind out of public funds, we may have been able to afford buying new helicopters with less chance of developing technical faults. Kindly go sing praises of Nawaz elsewhere.Recommend

  • Pakistani
    May 10, 2015 - 3:53AM

    Pakistani press reporters are totally insensitive.

    Why shove cameras in injured diplomats faces?Recommend

  • kulwant singhl
    May 12, 2015 - 4:25AM

    @Kiran Farooq: Kiaranji New Helicopter can also crash. Recommend

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