Islamabad : The crash of a military helicopter escorting Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf “has raised a number of questions” as to whether it was shot down or whether it was a genuine accident, a media report said Tuesday.
The Puma helicopter carrying, among others, Musharraf’s media adviser Maj. Gen. Rashid Qureshi, crashed on the outskirts of Pakistani Kashmir capital Muzaffarabad Monday, killing four people.
“Aviation experts have discarded the presumption that the helicopter was hit from the ground since in that case the chopper would have torn into pieces in the air and there was no question of anybody surviving,” The News reported.
“The debris shows that the aircraft engines jammed while it was on a very low altitude flight and, consequently, it crashed on the ground in one piece. Resultantly, the fire occurred in the rear part of the chopper, causing the death of the four who were sitting there,” the newspaper said.
The pilot and two other members of the crew survived because they were seated in the front of the chopper, which did not initially catch fire.
Similarly, Qureshi and his companions “did not receive serious injuries because they managed to jump out before the fire reached the front”, The News said.
Musharraf was informed about the crash while he was still in the air, travelling in the comparatively smaller Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter.
“He landed at Muzaffarabad without giving any impression of panic or concern,” the newspaper said.
The ill-fated helicopter belonged to one of the two Puma squadrons that are stationed at the Dhamial air base near Rawalpindi “that is kept under exceptional security and the standard of its maintenance is on the scale specific for the VVIP planes.
“There was no history of any mechanical failure of the chopper that has been destroyed and the fitness report was issued before its takeoff. The base was informed about 48 hours ahead of the schedule for the flight and, accordingly, the choppers were prepared for the journey,” The News said.
At the same time, “questions are being raised about the maintenance of the machines”, the report said, adding that as soon the news of the crash broke, the international media approached Information And Broadcasting Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani and his deputy Tariq Azeem with queries.
“The questioning was based on the assumption that the Puma chopper was hit from the ground, and it was presumed that the president was the target since he had to board either of the two helicopters. The media people were of the view that it was yet another attempt on the president and he had once again survived unharmed,” The News said.
Azeem, who deals with the international media, “had to satisfy numerous questions coming in from across the world. The media was inquisitive about the investigations and its mode”, the newspaper said.
Musharraf, on his return to Rawalpindi, inquired about the condition of the injured who had been admitted to the Combined Military Hospital (CMH). He also asked his chief security officer Col. Muhammad Ilyas to arrange for the funerals of the dead and to gather necessary information about the bereaved families so that he could reach them personally. The president’s military secretary, Maj. Gen. Shafqat Ahmad, was asked to visit the injured.