Two foreign diplomats and the wives of two others were killed Friday, along with three Pakistani crew members, when a military helicopter crash-landed in northern Pakistan en route to the ceremonial opening of a ski lift.
The Pakistani military said a technical failure caused the crash, which occurred in high wind in the remote Naltar Valley, according to witnesses quoted by local media. Pakistani Taliban insurgents claimed they had shot down the aircraft, which army officials denied.
The dead included Domingo D. Lucenario Jr., the ambassador to Islamabad from the Philippines, and Leif Larsen, the ambassador from Norway, along with the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors.
The aircraft, reported to be an MI-17 helicopter, was carrying a delegation of foreign dignitaries to visit development projects in the Gilgit-Baltistan region, near the Chinese border.
The head of the Pakistani military’s public relations office, Maj. Gen. Asim Bajwa, confirmed the deaths. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who was traveling in the area and scheduled to inaugurate the ski lift — the country’s first —returned to Islamabad after the crash.
Security officials said at least eight people on board were injured, including the ambassadors of Romania, Poland and Lebanon, but other reports put the number at 12. They were being treated at a military hospital in the nearby town of Gilgit; two had sustained serious injuries, according to a local security official who could not be quoted by name.
Local officials said the chopper lost its balance about 200 feet above the ground and crashed on a set of electricity transmission lines before colliding with a school building. There were no reports of injuries to anyone on the ground.
“The chopper caught fire after crashing on the school,” one official said.
Shabbir Mir, a journalist based in Gilgit, said the claims of an insurgent attack were unlikely to be true. The Naltar Valley, a strategically important region ringed by snow-capped mountains, is sparsely populated except for a large contingent of Pakistani security troops, who had conducted a sweep of the area three days before Sharif’s visit, Mir said.
“Pakistani security agencies have a strong presence in the area,” Mir said, and the majority of the population are Shiite Muslims who oppose the Taliban.
Bajwa said the cause of the crash would be investigated.
Special correspondent Sahi reported from Islamabad and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.