Chopper escorting Musharraf crashes: 4 soldiers killed
A helicopter escorting President Pervez Musharraf to an earthquake memorial crashed in Pakistani Kashmir yesterday, killing four troops and wounding his spokesman, officials said.
Musharraf was unharmed and his own chopper landed in Muzaffarabad, the regional capital, where he was presiding over a ceremony in remembrance of the 73,000 people killed in the October 8, 2005 quake, they said.
"The chopper was in the party going with the president when a technical fault developed, causing it to crash land and catch fire," chief military spokesman Major General Waheed Arshad told AFP.
"Four troops were killed. Major General retired Rashid Qureshi was also injured but he is out of danger," said Arshad, referring to Musharraf's official spokesman.
Another three people were injured including two security officials while the pilot of the Russian-built Mi-17 military chopper was unhurt.
"The president himself has reached his destination. The helicopter that crashed was behind the president's," Arshad added.
The helicopter was completely burned out and smashed into several pieces, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene of the crash near the town of Garhi Dopatta, some 20km from Muzaffarabad.
Military rescue teams had reached the area and cordoned it off.
Television footage taken soon after the accident showed hundreds of local people helping the injured and dousing the smoking wreckage with water from a nearby river.
Musharraf was due to make a speech hailing Pakistan's recovery efforts -- led by the military -- after the giant 7.6-magnitude quake two years ago, which also left 2.5 million people homeless.
The crash came two days after Musharraf, a key US ally, swept to victory in a presidential election. However he must wait until later this month for the Supreme Court to officially confirm the result.
Several helicopters involved in the massive quake rescue operation have crashed in the mountainous terrain of Kashmir, a Himalayan territory split between Pakistan and rival India.
In March 2006 a Red Cross helicopter crashed while ferrying food to earthquake survivors, injuring the two South African crew members.
Six Pakistani soldiers were killed when another Mi-17 crashed days after the quake.