A Pakistan helicopter crash killed at least six people including the ambassadors to Islamabad from Norway and the Philippines on Friday, May 8. The wives of the ambassadors of Indonesia and High Commissioner of Malaysia were also killed.
The Foreign Ministry of Pakistan confirmed the helicopter crash and the death of the diplomats. The Ministry also indicated that two pilots of the helicopter died, and other diplomats were sustained injuries.
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“With a very heavy heart we are confirming that a helicopter crashed while landing in Naltar this morning. It was carrying Ambassadors of several countries, some of whom were accompanied by their spouses.”
According to the Foreign Ministry, the foreign diplomats and their family members from 30 countries as well as some Pakistani dignitaries were flown to Gilgit by a C-130 aircraft as part of a three-day excursion. From Gilgit, the diplomats were taken to Naltar in four helicopters. The Ministry organized excursions regularly in consultation with the Diplomatic Corps.
Reports indicated that Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also part of the excursion to Naltar, but he was in a separate helicopter. Naltar is about 300 miles north of Islamabad. When the Prime Minister heard the news about the Pakistan helicopter crash in Naltar, he cancelled his trip and returned to Islamabad.
Prime Minister Sharif issued a statement expressing his “deep grief and sorrow” and “heartfelt” condolences to the families of the victims of the Pakistan helicopter crash.
Pakistan helicopter crash victims
The two ambassadors killed in the Pakistan helicopter crash were Leif Larsen from Norway and Domingo Lucenario from the Philippines.
Ambassador Larsen was 61years old, and a veteran envoy from Norway. He was a thoughtful and highly-respected member of the Islamabad Diplomatic Corps. In an interview with Newsweek last week, Larsen emphasized his affection for the “softer side” of Pakistan.
Norway’s Foreign Ministry Advisor, Rune Bjastad said, “Leif Larson was one of our best and most experienced diplomats, he was much loved and respected colleague and many people in ministry, and our mission are grieving the loss of good friend and colleague today.”
Ambassador Lucenario was 55 years old. He was one of the most distinguished career diplomats from the Philippines. He received presidential awards for his services including the Gawad Mabini Award with the rank of Grand Officer (Dakilang Kamanong) and the Order of Lakandula Award with the rank of Grand Officer (Maringal na Pinuno). He also received that Order of Suikatuna Award with the rank of Datu (Gold Level).
The two pilots killed in the Pakistan helicopter crash were Major Altamish and Major Faisal.
Pakistan helicopter crash: Taliban claims responsibility
According to CNN, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the Pakistan helicopter crash. Mohammad Khurrassani, spokesman of the Tehreek e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) said his group was targeting Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif.
“Today TTP’s Special Task Force (STF) and Taliban Intelligence Unit make a special plan to target the Prime Minister of Pakistan Nawaz Sharif during his visit. Nawaz Sharif survived the attack plan because he abolished his visit plan,” said Khurrassanu.
Pakistan helicopter crash caused by a “technical fault”
On the other hand, Pakistan denied that the helicopter crash was caused by terrorism. Officials said the helicopter went down due to a “technical fault.” According to eye witnesses, they did not observe any mid-air explosion. Instead, the helicopter appeared to be spinning out of control and crashed into a school building in the Naltar Valley.
Former Pakistani Air Force senior officer Faaiz Mir commented, “I have flown in this area in a helicopter, so I am aware how hostile the terrain is. I am aware that the aircraft was on landing approach. It was close to landing when it started to spin. Most probably it [was] a tail rotor malfunction.”