Musharraf’s escort chopper crashes, 4 troops killed

By Muhammad Najeeb, IANS

Islamabad : A chopper escorting President Pervez Musharraf to a quake-hit area crashed in Pakistan-administered Kashmir Monday, killing four soldiers and wounding six others. Among the injured is the military ruler’s spokesman.

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The ill-fated chopper was following Musharraf’s helicopter that landed safely in Muzaffarabad, the capital of Pakistan-controlled Kashmir, military spokesman Major Gen. Waheed Arshad told reporters.

Four troopers were killed in the crash, said the spokesman. However, Online news agency, quoting unofficial sources, put the number of dead soldiers at six.

“The chopper was in the party going with the president when a technical fault developed, causing it to crash and catch fire,” Arshad said, ruling out a terrorist attack. An investigation into the incident has been launched.

Musharraf’s spokesman Major Gen. (Retd) Rashid Qureshi, injured in the accident, is out of danger, the spokesman said. He also said that the president had reached his destination safely.

Musharraf was on a visit to quake-hit areas of Pakistan-administered Kashmir to mark the second anniversary of the Oct 8, 2005 earthquake when the Russian made MI-17 helicopter behind his chopper suddenly crashed near Garhi Dopatta at Majmohi some 20 km from Muzaffarabad.

The Oct 8, 2005 quake killed tens of thousands of people in Pakistan-administered Kashmir and rendered millions homeless.

According to eyewitnesses, the chopper carrying 10 soldiers started turning sharply. The pilot, who escaped unhurt, made an attempt at emergency landing, but the chopper suddenly caught fire.

Several helicopters, involved in rescue operations, since the 2005-earthquake have crashed in the area, killing more than 50 people. A Red Cross chopper crashed in March 2006 while ferrying food to earthquake survivors, injuring two South African crew members. Six Pakistani soldiers were killed when another MI-17 crashed days after the quake.