I was in the helicopter behind the one that crashed

Written by  Published by:Pakistan Views Saturday, 09 May 2015 15:26

GILGIT: I was part of the last group of passengers on the way to Naltar today when we saw a massive fire on the ground from our helicopter. A sign on the ground, where the fire has occurred, read out: Army Public School.

The Swiss ambassador, seated next to me, said, “Did a fire break out in a school?” as we saw villagers scrambling towards what we later came to know as the crash site of the helicopter that had taken off minutes before ours did.

Just a few hours before, a 57-member delegation had gathered at the Nur Khan Airbase in Rawalpindi, where we had tea and breakfast before departing for Gilgit.

Upon arriving in Gilgit at 9:45 we were told we would be flying to Naltar in three military helicopters instead of four as planned earlier, owing to technical issues in one of them. We had divided into four groups. I was part of the last group which had to wait for the first helicopter to return after dropping the first group of passengers at the destination. By the time we departed all other groups had already departed.

The delegation included foreign envoys and their families. The trip, sponsored by the Foreign Office, was mainly for tourism purposes. However, some high-level meetings were also part of the agenda, including a meeting with the Gilgit-Baltistan chief minister.

After we saw the fire, we were told we would be heading back to Gilgit. Once we got there, I overheard officials talking about a death toll, which made us suspicious. We were still clueless about the crash but knew something was wrong.

I approached an official from the Air Force and upon insistence, was told about the crash but assured that the passengers survived with minor injuries.

We were taken to the Serena Hotel in Gilgit, where the news of the fatalities and the devastation caused began to slowly creep in.

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