ISLAMABAD - The mortal remains of the ambassadors of Norway and Philippines and wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian envoys were airlifted from Naltar Valley to Rawalpindi on Saturday morning and received by top military leadership as well as government officials.

Chief of Army Staff (COAS) General Raheel Sharif and senior civilian, military and air force officials were present at the airbase when the bodies were airlifted from Gilgit-Baltistan’s Naltar Valley where the chopper crashed while landing on Friday.

The 12 people injured in the crash also arrived at the military base in a C-130 plane amid moving scenes. The bodies of the foreigners would be transported to the respective countries after consultation with the families and officials of the embassies concerned.

According to eyewitnesses, relatives of the injured and the dead broke into tears soon after the victims were brought to Nur Khan Airbase. “We stand by you at this sad moment,” Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa said in a tweet.

According to Foreign Office spokesperson Qazi Khalilullah, the injured ambassadors of Indonesia, the Netherlands, Malaysia and Poland were transported back by a special C-130 flight while the rest of the group of the diplomats who had gone to Gilgit also returned safely to Rawalpindi on Saturday morning.

He said Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Foreign Affairs Syed Tariq Fatemi and Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry along with senior officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were present at Nur Khan Airbase, Chaklala, to receive the dead and injured.

Three ambassadors to Pakistan who survived the helicopter crash described the terrifying moment the aircraft span out of control before slamming into the ground and catching fire.

Testimonies of diplomats on board from Malaysia, Argentina and the Netherlands released by the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on Saturday also unequivocally bolstered government and eyewitness statements that the disaster was an accident rather than an act of terrorism.

Malaysia’s envoy - who was himself injured in the crash - described how the journey had gone to plan until they were due to land at their destination in the northern Gilgit-Baltistan region.

“After arriving at Gilgit airport everything went well except for the last few minutes, when the helicopter went into a spiral, round and round and round, and there it hit the ground,” Hasrul Sani Mujtabar said.

“I saw the pilot was killed, some others died instantly and I was in middle. Then a few managed to escape but the fire was very strong,” with smoke quickly filling the helicopter, he said.

“(Regarding) remarks and rumours that there was a terrorist attack or that there was sabotage, I can say 99.9 percent that they were not true, that this was a sad accident, a really unfortunate accident, by a technical fault on the plane,” Argentinian Ambassador Rodolfo Martin Saravia told the air force.

Dutch Ambassador Marcel de Vink said he felt “extremely lucky” to be alive after what he had witnessed. He was described as having sustained burns to the leg and face by the foreign ministry.

“I remember that we got into a spin and so thinking I suppose I braced a little bit for impact... afterwards I was actually opening my eyes seeing the smoke and explosions, so I was extremely lucky because it went incredibly fast,” he said.

At Nur Khan Airbase, servicemen formed a guard of honour 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. Gen Sharif put his arm around a sobbing boy among the diplomats. “It’s a very sad moment and we are all greatly 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,” he added.

The mortal remains of the deceased have been placed in the morgue of Rawalpindi CMH while the ambassadors of Indonesia and Netherlands are undergoing treatment at the special burn unit in Kharian. The injured and crew members are also under treatment at CMH in Rawalpindi.

The spokesperson said a delegation from Philippines headed by the under secretary of Philippines Ministry of Foreign Affairs, including the spouse and son of the late ambassador, and a delegation from Malaysia, consisting of senior officials and daughter of the Malaysian ambassador, would be arriving in Islamabad Sunday night.

“The widow of the Norwegian ambassador and a delegation from Indonesia is also expected to arrive shortly,” the spokesperson added.

“Transportation of the mortal remains to the respective countries of the deceased would be finalised after consultation with the families and officials of the embassies concerned and after completion of all formalities,” the spokesperson added.

IT WAS A TECHNICAL FAULT: Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Sohail Aman told PTV on Saturday that the ill-fated helicopter went out of control before landing due to a technical fault.

However, he said, the real cause of the accident could be ascertained after the investigation. The base commander was observing landing of the chopper at Naltar, he added. The air chief said MI-17 helicopter was on a routine flight and the pilots had excellent professional skills.

Meanwhile, Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Maj-Gen Asim Bajwa said the funeral prayers of the two pilots and crew were offered at Chaklala on Saturday while their burials would be performed at their native towns after DNA identification.

In 1988, a plane crash killed Pakistan’s then military-ruler General Zia-ul-Haq as well as the US ambassador at the time, Arnold Raphel.

The Russian-built Mi-17, used by air forces across the world, has had a patchy safety record in recent years.

Known for its spectacular mountain ranges, Gilgit-Baltistan is a strategically important autonomous region that borders China, Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir.