Three diplomats to Pakistan who survived a helicopter crash that killed seven people described the terrifying moment the aircraft spun out of control before slamming into the ground and catching fire.
Testimonies of diplomats on board from Malaysia, Argentina and the Netherlands released by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) last Saturday (9) also unequivocally bolstered government and eyewitness statements that the disaster was an accident rather than an act of terrorism.
Malaysia’s envoy – who was himself injured in the crash – described how the journey had gone to plan until they were due to land at their destination in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region.
“After arriving at Gilgit airport everything went well except for the last few minutes, when the helicopter went into a spiral, round and round and round, and there it hit the ground,” Hasrul Sani Mujtabar said.
“I saw the pilot was killed, some others died instantly and I was in the middle. Then a few managed to escape but the fire was very strong, with smoke quickly filling the helicopter,” he said.
The helicopter was one of three carrying a delegation of ambassadors to inspect projects on a three-day trip to the region, where they were set to meet prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The Pakistani Taliban had claimed to have struck the aircraft with a ground-to-air missile hoping to assassinate Sharif. “(Regarding) rumours there was a terrorist attack or sabotage, I can say 99.9 per cent they were not true.
“This was a sad accident, a really unfortunate accident, by a technical fault on the plane,” Argentinian ambassador Rodolfo Martin Saravia told the air force.
Leif H Larsen, the Norwegian envoy, and Domingo D Lucenario Jr of the Philippines, were killed along with the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, the helicopter’s two pilots and another crew member.
Dutch ambassador Marcel de Vink said he felt “extremely lucky” to be alive after what he had witnessed. He was described as having sustained burns to the leg and face by the foreign ministry.
“I remember we got into a spin and braced a little bit for impact. Afterwards I opened my eyes seeing the smoke and explosions; I was extremely lucky as it went incredibly fast,” he said.
Pakistan foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry told a press conference last Friday (8) there were 19 people on board the helicopter, of whom 12 were rescued, adding that its black box had been retrieved.
The Indonesian ambassador suffered 75 per cent burns and is in a critical condition, Chaudry added.
It was Pakistan’s worst air crash since 2012, when a Boeing 737 passenger plane went down in Islamabad, killing 130 people.