Pakistan helicopter crash kills foreign envoys

  • Published
Media caption,

Footage showed the scene of the crash, as the BBC's Shahzeb Jilliani reports

A Pakistan army helicopter has crashed in mountainous territory, killing seven people, including the Philippine and Norwegian ambassadors.

It crashed during an emergency landing in the Pakistani-administered Gilgit-Baltistan region.

The wives of the Indonesian and Malaysian envoys, two pilots and a crew member also died. They were to attend the opening of a tourism project.

Two senior Pakistani ministers said the crash was down to a technical fault.

Earlier, the Pakistani Taliban said they were behind the attack.

But Defence Minister Khawaja Asif, and Foreign Minister Azez Chaudhury said there appeared to have been technical problems with the helicopter.

Analysis: M Ilyas Khan, BBC News, Islamabad

This is one of the most tragic aviation disasters for the Pakistani military in decades. The last time one of its air crashes killed a foreign diplomat was in 1988 when a C-130, carrying then military ruler Gen Zia ul-Haq, US Ambassador Arnold Raphel and several of the army top brass, crashed in southern Pakistan, killing all on board.

The diplomats flying in the ill-fated MI-17 on Friday were headed for the inauguration of a ski chairlift, built in the breathtaking resort of Naltar, in northern Pakistan.

The 180-seat lift was donated by Switzerland and installed by the Pakistan Air Force. Its test run was completed in August, but its formal opening was delayed several times due to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's preoccupations elsewhere.

Today Mr Sharif flew to within 40km (25 miles) of Naltar valley, but just then the news of the crash came and he had to turn back without touching down at the regional airport in Gilgit.

The area is not a stronghold of the Pakistani Taliban (TTP). The militant group earlier issued a statement saying they had shot down the helicopter with an anti-aircraft missile, intending to kill the prime minister.

Military spokesman Asim Bajwa said in a Twitter post that Norwegian envoy Leif Larsen and Domingo Lucenario of the Philippines had been killed.

He said five others were injured, including the Polish and Dutch ambassadors.

Eleven foreigners and six Pakistanis were on board the MI-17 helicopter when it came down in the Naltar valley, he added.

'In flames'

The helicopter hit a building belonging to an army school in Gilgit-Baltistan. The building caught fire but no children were in class at the time, a senior official told the AFP news agency.

Local resident Sher Ahmed told the news agency that there had been a heavy security presence in the area ahead of the visit.

"I was in my garden with my family watching the helicopters arriving when we heard a loud explosion and then the school building was in flames," he said.

Image source, REUTERS/Norwegian Foreign Department/NTB Scanpix
Image caption,
Norway's ambassador to Pakistan Leif Larsen died in the crash
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The ambassadors of Poland and the Netherlands were also injured
Image source, AFP
Image caption,
They and several others were brought to a military hospital in Gilgit for treatment

It was one of three helicopters ferrying a delegation of foreign diplomats for the inauguration of the chairlift project.

Construction was reportedly completed more than six months ago, but the inauguration was delayed due to Prime Minister Sharif's other commitments.

It is the second chairlift to be built in a Pakistani ski resort. The first, which is at Pakistan's oldest ski resort of Malam Jabba in the Swat valley, was destroyed by the Taliban.

Gilgit-Baltistan is famous for its natural beauty and the main city of Gilgit is seen as a gateway to the Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges.

It is also a strategically important autonomous region bordering China, Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir.

There have been a number of crashes involving the same model of military helicopter in Pakistan in recent years.

MI-17 helicopter crashes in Pakistan

  • 2012: Five killed in helicopter crash near Skardu airport in Gilgit-Baltistan region
  • 2009: 41 killed in crash in northern Chapri Ferozkhel area
  • 2007: Four killed in crash near Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistani-administered Kashmir
  • 2004: 13 killed when helicopter travelling from Rawalpindi to the North Waziristan tribal area crashes

Source: Pakistan's Dawn News