Friday 24 March 2017

Ambassadors from the Philippines and Norway killed in helicopter crash

The helicopter was en route to the northern village of Naltar where prime minister Nawaz Sharif was to attend a public ceremony
The helicopter was en route to the northern village of Naltar where prime minister Nawaz Sharif was to attend a public ceremony

Ambassadors from the Philippines and Norway and the wives of the ambassadors from Malaysia and Indonesia have been killed as a Pakistani army helicopter carrying foreign dignitaries crashed in the country's north, the military said.

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, suffered "varying degree of injuries".

The helicopter was en the 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 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 statement said.

Charles Jose, a spokesman for the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, said his government was still "verifying the report" from the Pakistani government of the death of ambassador Domingo Lucenario Jr. 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, according to his office, which said helicopters were evacuating the injured diplomats and the bodies were being transported to Islamabad.

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 an unrelated incident.

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

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