Two ambassadors killed in Pakistan helicopter crash

Soldiers gather beside an army helicopter at a military hospital in Gilgit where victims of a helicopter crash were taken. Picture: Getty

Soldiers gather beside an army helicopter at a military hospital in Gilgit where victims of a helicopter crash were taken. Picture: Getty

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Ambassadors from the Philippines and Norway and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors were killed when a Pakistani army helicopter carrying foreign dignitaries crashed.

Army spokesman Major General Asim Bajwa said the MI-17 helicopter was forced to make an emergency landing.

The two pilots and a crew member were also killed, he said, adding that the surviving passengers, including the Dutch and Polish ambassadors, had suffered “varying degrees of
injuries”.

The helicopter was flying 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 had returned to Islamabad in the wake of the crash.

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 said.

Charles Jose, a spokesman for the Philippines department of foreign affairs, said his government was still “verifying the report” from the Pakistani government of the death of ambassador Domingo Lucenario Jnr. The Norwegian foreign ministry said it had no immediate comment on the reported death of ambassador Leif H Larsen.

Romania’s ambassador to Pakistan, Emilian Ion, was on the helicopter and survived, the Romanian foreign ministry said.

Mr Sharif 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”.

He also announced a national day of mourning.

His office said helicopters had been evacuating the injured diplomats and that the bodies were being transported to Islamabad.

The Pakistani Taleban issued a statement claiming it had shot down the helicopter with an anti-aircraft missile. However, it was impossible to immediately verify the claim and it was unclear whether it was purely an opportunistic attempt to claim responsibility for something it didn’t do.

Pakistan’s defence minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, made no reference to the Taleban claim but said in a statement that initial reports suggested the crash had been due to a “technical fault”.

Norwegian foreign minister Borge Brende said the Pakistani authorities had informed Norway that Mr Larsen was among the victims.

Mr Brende called Mr Larsen “one of our best and most experienced diplomats”.

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