A military helicopter carrying foreign diplomats crashed in northern Pakistan Friday, killing at least seven people, including the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines, and injuring several others.
The Pakistani Mi-17 chopper was flying to the mountainous northern region of Gilgit to check on development projects when it crashed into a school and caught fire with 17 people aboard, Reuters reported the Pakistan Foreign Office said.
Local media said there were 11 foreigners and six Pakistanis on the downed helicopter. Norwegian Ambassador Leif Larsen, Philippine Ambassador Domingo Lucenario, the wives of the ambassadors of Malaysia, Habibah Mahmud, and Indonesia, Hery Listyawati, plus the two pilots and a crew member died in the accident, military spokesman Asim Bajwa said via Twitter.
At least 13 other people were injured, The Washington Post reported Friday. Bajwa said the ambassadors of the Netherlands and Poland were injured. The ambassadors of South Africa, Romania, and Lebanon were also on board, according to a flight list obtained by Reuters.
The Romanian Foreign Ministry said its ambassador was alive and had not been injured in the crash.
Envoys from more than 30 countries and their families were part of a three-day trip to the region, a statement from Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry said. Local media reports suggested the schedule included the inauguration of a new chair lift for tourists.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad said none of its personnel were on the excursion, the Washington Post reported.
A local farmer– Shakil Ahmed– saw the helicopter crash into the roof of the Naltar Snow School from his house about 328 feet away.
“The helicopter came very close to the helipad, maybe 820 feet in the air, just above the school,” Ahmed told Reuters. “It hovered there for a while and then tried to turn when it crashed. Thankfully there were no kids in the school because it was an off-day for security reasons. The helicopter caught fire and was on fire for over an hour,” Ahmed said.
“The bodies are so badly torched that they can’t be identified,” said Sibtain Ahmed, the home secretary of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also traveling to Gilgit on a separate aircraft—one of four transporting people to see the projects– when the accident happened but he has returned to Islamabad, Reuters reported, citing the Prime Minister’s office.
The cause of the crash is under investigation but initial information indicated technical problems, Bajwa said.
The Pakistani Taliban said they shot down the aircraft but witnesses on the ground, and in three other helicopters on the trip disputed the claim. Pakistani Taliban militants said they had shot down the helicopter with a shoulder-launched missile adding they had been hoping to shoot down Sharif’s aircraft.
“Nawaz Sharif and his allies are our prime targets,” Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khurasani said in an emailed statement.
Gilgit, about 150 miles north of Islamabad, is not a militant stronghold and the Taliban often claim responsibility for incidents in which they are not involved.
Four other Mi-17 crashes in Pakistan have been reported in the last 11 years.