A military helicopter in Kyrgyzstan has crashed during a rescue of tourists trapped on the Khan Tengri mountain, injuring several people onboard.
The accident occurred on the morning of July 9, when the Mi-8 craft was forced to make a rough landing in the area of the South Inylchek Glacier due to windy conditions. Other than the four crew members, the helicopter was carrying nine tourists, a guide and a medic.
Khan Tengri mountain is located in the extreme east of Kyrgyzstan, on the border with Kazakhstan and China.
A press spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz military, Gulzat Zharasheva, said that another military helicopter was dispatched to the site to evacuate the six people in the accident. Zharasheva said the injured were in a satisfactory state.
Muhammed Svarov, a senior official in the Emergency Services Ministry, said the government asked neighboring Kazakhstan to assist by providing another aircraft.
“The General Staff helicopter evacuated the most seriously wounded who are in need of treatment. The Kazakh craft will collect those who received lighter injuries and who are in shock,” he said.
This is a far from unprecedented incident. In 2016, an Mi-8 helicopter was involved in a similar crash landing when it was being used to evacuate a Russian mountaineer from the Northern Inylchek base camp.
Svarov said that there will be an official investigation to work out if the Mi-8 helicopter involved in this latest episode was in proper working order.
Under a government decree from 2012, the General Staff of the Armed Forces makes its helicopters available for the search and rescue of stranded tourists. But at the start of this July, Yelena Kalashnikova, a member of the Kyrgyz Association of Tour Operators, complained that there is a shortage of suitable aircraft up to the job of high-altitude operations.
“We have repeatedly appealed with a proposal to rent helicopters from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and so on, but we are always turned down, since the tourist season is open everywhere,” Kalashnikova was quoted as saying by Kabar news agency. “We decided to go for another solution, to rent an engine from Kazakhstan, but our government will not shoulder responsibility for this.”
Kalashnikova said there could be serious consequences of inaction. Around 5,000 tours have been booked for this summer in Kyrgyzstan and having to cancel them could have disastrous implications for the tourism industry.
Nurjamal Djanibekova is a journalist based in Bishkek.