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Tech fault blamed for copter crash

Published 08/05/2015

The MI-17 aircraft was carrying 11 foreigners and six Pakistanis
The MI-17 aircraft was carrying 11 foreigners and six Pakistanis

Ambassadors to Pakistan from the Philippines and Norway and the wives of the ambassadors from Malaysia and Indonesia were among seven people killed when a Pakistani army helicopter crashed in the country's north.

The Pakistani air force said a technical failure caused the crash and a fire, which broke out after the crash, caused the high number of fatalities.

As well as the four foreign dignitaries, two pilots and a crew member were also killed, while 10 passengers were injured.

Pakistani army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said the MI-17 helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing. He said the surviving passengers, including the Dutch and Polish ambassadors, suffered "varying degree of injuries".

The helicopter was on its way to the northern village of Naltar where prime minister Nawaz Sharif was to attend a public ceremony to inaugurate a newly installed chairlift at a ski resort. Mr Sharif was in his own plane en route to Naltar when the "tragic news" was conveyed to him, according to a statement from the prime minister's office. It said Mr Sharif returned to Islamabad after the crash.

Air force spokesman Syed Muhammad Ali later told the state-run news agency that a technical failure forced the crash landing and the helicopter caught fire when it went down with the diplomats who were also being flown to Naltar for the inauguration.

Hussain Khan, a police officer at Naltar, said he saw the helicopter stall in midair, then come down in an erratic manner as if the pilot had no control over it - then suddenly, it plunged down towards a school building on the ground.

"The helicopter was preparing to land at a helipad near a school, when it suddenly ... crashed and caught fire," Mr Khan said.

Security forces quickly started the rescue work and transported the dead and injured to a nearby hospital, he added.

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said the heads of diplomatic missions from more than 30 countries, along with family members and some Pakistani dignitaries, had been flown to the city of Gilgit by a C-130 aircraft.

"From there, they were being taken to Naltar in four helicopters for a three-day excursion trip," the ministry statement said.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs announced it was "deeply saddened" by the death of ambassador Domingo Lucenario Jr, and that his colleagues in Manila observed a two-minute period of silence in commemoration.

Mr Lucenario, 54, also served as non-resident ambassador to Afghanistan, Kyrgystan and Tajikistan. He is survived by his wife and three children.

Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende confirmed the death of ambassador Leif H Larsen, describing him in a statement as "a well-liked and highly respected colleague. His friends and colleagues in the Foreign Ministry and across our foreign stations are today in sorrow".

Mr Larsen, 61, is survived by a wife and a son.

Malaysia's foreign ministry confirmed that the wife of its high commissioner to Pakistan died in the crash. The high commissioner Hasrul Sani Mujtabar survived the incident and being treated at the Gilgit hospital, it said.

Romania's ambassador to Pakistan, Emilian Ion, was on the helicopter and survived, the Romanian Foreign Ministry said.

Hours after the crash, Indonesia's foreign minister Retno Marsudi confirmed in Jakarta that Heri Listyawati, the wife of Indonesia's ambassador, was killed while her husband, Burhan Muhammad, survived with injuries.

In Poland, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Polish ambassador Andrzej Ananicz and his wife Zofia were on board the helicopter and "suffered injuries which were not life threatening".

Mr Sharif, in his statement, expressed his "deep grief and sorrow over the tragic incident" and said he "extended heartfelt condolences to those who lost their lives in this incident".

Mr Sharif declared tomorrow a national day of mourning, according to his office, which also said that helicopters were evacuating the injured diplomats and the bodies of those killed were being transported to Islamabad.

"We are making arrangements to send the bodies of the diplomats to their countries with full honour," foreign minister Aizaz Chaudhry said.

Hours after the crash, the Pakistani Talban issued a statement claiming it shot down the helicopter with an anti-aircraft missile. It was impossible to immediately verify the claim, and it was unclear if it was an opportunistic attempt to claim responsibility for a tragic accident.

Pakistan's defence minister Khawaja Muhammad Asif made no reference to the Taliban claim but said in an earlier statement that initial reports suggested the crash was due to a "technical fault".

It was the country's worst air crash since 2010 when a plane crashed near Islamabad, killing 146 passengers. Another Pakistani passenger plane crashed near Islamabad in 2012, killing 121 passengers and six crew members.

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