ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan’s military brought the bodies of two ambassadors and two ambassadors’ wives to Islamabad on Saturday, a day after they were killed in a helicopter crash in northern mountains as they where inspecting a tourism project.
The ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines and the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian envoys were killed when the helicopter they were on crashed in the Gilgit region.
Three Pakistani crewmen were also killed and several diplomats were injured when the Mi-17 helicopter came down on a school in a valley lined by pine forests and overlooked by snow-peaked mountains. No children were in the school at the time.
The government says the aircraft suffered engine failure, dismissing as bogus a Pakistani Taliban claim that the militants shot it down.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was also going to the inauguration of a ski lift and was on a separate helicopter when the accident happened.
Pakistani servicemen formed a guard of honor to receive the coffins, draped in national flags and bedecked with wreaths, as soldiers carried them from the aircraft that brought them from the north. The ceremony was broadcast live on television.
Diplomats in black and the military’s top brass, including army chief General Raheel Sharif, were on hand and the commanders saluted as the coffins were carried by. Sharif put his arm around a sobbing boy among the diplomats.
“It’s a very sad moment and we are all very shaken,” Spanish ambassador Javier Carbajosa Sanchez told reporters. He was on the trip but on another helicopter.
“Unfortunately, these things happen. Everything seems to indicate it was a terrible accident.”
Pakistan declared a day of mourning and Sharif has ordered cabinet ministers to accompany the bodies of the four foreign victims to their countries.
The government said 17 people were on board and among the injured were the ambassadors of Poland and the Netherlands.
Gilgit, about 250 km (150 miles) north of Islamabad, is not a militant stronghold and the Taliban often claim responsibility for incidents that they had nothing to do with.
Witnesses on the ground, and in other helicopters on the trip, reported nothing to indicate any firing.
The Mi-17 is considered a reliable, no-frills helicopter, first built by the Russians for use in hot and high conditions in Asia.
The Pakistani military is generally seen as maintaining its equipment well though media have reported four other Mi-17 crashes in Pakistan in the last 11 years.
A military team is investigating the crash.
Editing by Alex Richardson