Pakistan Helicopter Crash Kills Foreign Diplomats

Gilgit crash (Credit:
Gilgit crash (Credit:

ISLAMABAD, May 8 — An international tour of a scenic corner of northern Pakistan ended in tragedy Friday, when a Pakistani military helicopter carrying foreign diplomats went down in a fiery crash that killed seven people aboard, including the ambassadors from Norway and the Philippines.

The helicopter, which officials said was carrying 19 people, crashed into a school while making a landing in Naltar, a valley in the Gilgit district of northern Pakistan.

In a briefing Friday night, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, said that initial investigation suggested that the engine of the helicopter failed while it was approaching the landing site. He dismissed a claim by the Pakistani Taliban earlier in the day that they had shot the helicopter down with a shoulder-fired missile, saying: “There was no terrorist activity.”

The dead included Ambassador Leif H. Larsen of Norway and Ambassador Domingo D. Lucenario Jr. of the Philippines, the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, and the helicopter’s two pilots and a crew member, the Pakistani military said.

In addition, the Polish ambassador, Andrzej Ananicz, and the Dutch ambassador, Marcel de Vink, were among the injured, said Maj. Gen. Asim Saleem Bajwa, a spokesman for the Pakistani military.

In a phone interview, Piar Ali, a tourist who was staying at a hotel near the site, said the sound of the helicopter crashing into the back end of the Army Public School in Naltar sent him running to check out the scene. “I came out and started making a video,” he said. “I saw the helicopter in flames, and soon afterward the school building also caught fire.”

The helicopter was one of several aircraft flying in to celebrate the inauguration of a tourism project in Gilgit-Baltistan, the Pakistani-controlled part of the disputed Kashmir region.

According to a statement by the Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the heads of diplomatic mission of more than 30 countries and their family members, as well as some Pakistani dignitaries, had been flown in a C-130 aircraft on Friday morning from Islamabad, the capital, to Gilgit. From there, they were being taken to Naltar in helicopters — Russian-made Mi-17 transport choppers — for a three-day excursion, the statement said.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif of Pakistan was en route to the ceremony in his own plane when he was told about the crash. Mr. Sharif then turned back to Islamabad and later expressed deep grief and sorrow over the crash, according to a statement by his office.

The prime minister also announced a day of mourning.

“The government and people of Pakistan are deeply saddened over the tragic death of foreigners in the unfortunate incident and equally share the grief of the affected families,” President Mamnoon Hussain said in a statement.

Pakistani news media had earlier reported that Mr. Sharif was scheduled to inaugurate a tourist chairlift in the Naltar Valley, a picturesque ski resort in Gilgit. The chairlift had been presented by Switzerland to the Pakistani Air Force.

The injured and the dead were airlifted to a military hospital in the city of Gilgit, about 30 miles southwest of the Naltar Valley. But Foreign Secretary Chaudhry said they could not immediately be transported back to Islamabad because of bad weather in the surrounding area.

Mr. Chaudhry said that the weather was clear in Naltar Valley when the crash took place, however, and that the investigation was focusing on possible mechanical failure. He said the helicopter was built in 2002 and had received regular service.

“It was in good condition,” he said. “When you have bad luck, you have it.”

One Reply to “Pakistan Helicopter Crash Kills Foreign Diplomats”

  1. in last ten years we have 35,000 people dead in crashes in Pakistan because of America pushing things on us wrong way. i was shocked to hear the count from a radio anchor on FM 103 last day.

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