Tajikistan: Casualties reported in helicopter mountain crash
A local news website says three mountaineers and two crew members were killed.
A news website in Tajikistan has reported that three mountaineers and two crew members have died after a helicopter was forced into a crash-landing on its way to a high-altitude base camp.
Asia-Plus newspaper reported late in the afternoon on August 13 that rescue workers had reached the scene of the incident and were working to retrieve the survivors.
Emergency service officials had reported that the Mi-8 helicopter crashed in the afternoon on August 12 with 16 people onboard — 13 mountaineers and three crew. The reasons for the accident are not yet known.
Other local media cited unnamed officials as saying all people onboard had survived, but establishing a clear chronology of events has been problematic. Attempts to reach the Committee for Emergency Situations have proven unsuccessful.
According to other unconfirmed details circulating on social media, 11 of those onboard were Russian nationals. The other mountaineers were said to be from Belarus and Spain. All the crew were Tajik citizens. Officials had not confirmed these figures as of August 13.
The aircraft was headed toward the Fortabek glacier, which is typically used as a jumping-off point for climbers looking to scale the 7,500-meter (24,600-foot) Ismoil Somoni Peak. According to Asia-Plus, the expedition had been organized by PamirPeaks, a company that has exclusive rights to lead tours up Ismoil Somoni Peak. Expeditions to the mountain can cost around $5,000 per person.
This incident will reawaken concerns about Tajikistan’s lack of equipment to undertake high-altitude rescue missions. The Committee for Emergency Situations has noted in the past that it does not own its own rescue helicopters.
“In the event of need, we have an agreement in place to borrow helicopters from the Defense Ministry,” a committee representative said last year.
The Mi-8 involved in the crash is one of the most widely produced aircraft of its type in the world. The Soviet-designed helicopters have often been involved in fatal accidents, in Tajikistan and elsewhere.
In October 2010, an Mi-8 belonging to Tajikistan’s national air force crashed while being used in a security operation in the mountainous east. According to varying reports, anywhere up to 28 people, including many special forces troops, were killed in that incident.
More recently, a military Mi-8 craft was forced on July 9 to perform a high-altitude crash landing during a rescue mission in neighboring Kyrgyzstan. The accident was caused by windy conditions. There were no fatalities.