Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has expressed his grief over the losses of life in Pakistan Army’s MI-17 helicopter crash in Naltar Valley.
The Pakistani Taliban later claimed the group had struck the aircraft with a ground-to-air missile hoping to assassinate Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who was flying to the region at the same time — but the claim was rebutted by officials and multiple eye-witnesses.
The helicopter was one of three carrying a delegation of ambassadors to inspect projects on a three-day trip to Gilgit-Baltistan where they were set to meet with Sharif.
The military and Pakistan’s foreign office said the crash was due to a technical fault while landing. Officials added the school was shut at the time.
“The matter will be investigated as initial reports suggest it was a technical fault,” the Ministry of Defence said in a statement.
The martyred pilots of the helicopter have been identified as Major Faisal and Major Altamash.
A statement by Sharif’s office had said he 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.
Director General of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Asim Bajwa said that three persons were reported injured while rescue teams have been dispatched to the crash site.
3rd MI-17 crash landed, as per initial information all passengers and crew survived.Three passengers recd injuries-2/3
— AsimBajwaISPR (@AsimBajwaISPR) May 8, 2015
Leif H. Larsen, the Norwegian envoy, and Domingo D. Lucenario Jr of the Philippines were killed along with the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, as well as the helicopter’s two pilots and another crew member according to official tweets by the army. Norway’s foreign office confirmed the death of its diplomat. 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. 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.
Update Naltar:7 Fatalities.Foreigners-4(Ambs Norway,Philipine,wife of Amb Indonesia,Malaysia).Pakistani-3; two pilots,one crew member-6 — AsimBajwaISPR (@AsimBajwaISPR) May 8, 2015
The reason of the crash landing attempt is still unknown.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif “expressed deep grief and sorrow” and announced a day of mourning, according to his office.
AFP adds: 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 (30 miles) to the southwest, a hospital official said the injured were carried on stretchers to the emergency ward of the Combined Military Hospital.
Shock and sorrow for loss of friends and colleagues in Naltar air crash. Our condolences to families of victims. Our prayers for injured.
— EmbItaly in Pakistan (@ItalyinPak) May 9, 2015
At half-mast; mourning the victims of helicopter crash in Gilgit-Naltar. pic.twitter.com/IhajoCreVj
— Sweden in Pakistan (@SwedeninPK) May 9, 2015
It was Pakistan’s worst air crash since 2012 when a Boeing 737 passenger plane went down in Islamabad, killing 130 people.
In 1988, a plane crash killed Pakistan’s then military-ruler General Zia-ul-Haq as well as the US ambassador at the time, Arnold Raphel.