New Delhi: Signalling
the spirit of the resumed peace process, an Indian Army helicopter
that strayed into Pakistan in bad weather Sunday returned with its
crew after Pakistani authorities let it go. India was prompt to
appreciate Pakistan's understanding.
The Cheetah helicopter with four officers on board returned to
Kargil in Jammu and Kashmir around 6 p.m., ending an inadvertent
intrusion that immediately triggered urgent talks between the two
foreign and military establishments.
The chopper landed safety in India, Virendra Singh, the army's
assistant public relations officer, told IANS.
"We are relieved that our officers and helicopter are back in
India. We greatly appreciate the manner in which Pakistan worked
with us in resolving the matter," Vishnu Prakash, the spokesperson
of the external affairs ministry, said.
The Indian high commission in Islamabad was constantly in touch
with the Pakistani side over the incident, which lasted about five
The quick resolution of the issue, which could have become a
potential diplomatic minefield, underlined the desire of the both
countries to sustain the spirit of trust building that has marked
their engagement since they resumed their peace process early this
year. The dialogue process was frozen after 26/11 Mumbai attacks
in which Pakistani militants were involved.
Indian military officials earlier said that pilot error forced the
chopper to stray across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides
Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The helicopter carried two pilots, a junior commissioned officer
and an engineer officer.
They were identified as Major R.G. Raja (pilot), Major G. Kapila
(co-pilot), Lt. Col S.P. Verma (engineering officer) and Subedar
The helicopter had taken off from Leh in Jammu and Kashmir's
Ladakh region and was bound for Bhimbhat in Drass sector near
Kargil, on the LoC, to bail out an Indian Army helicopter that got
grounded there after a snag. An earlier account had mistakenly
described the helicopter as a Chetak.
Pakistani officials said the helicopter, which had taken off at
around 1 p.m., was forced to land in Skardu sector in Pakistani
administered Kashmir for violating the country's airspace. Skardu
also lies close to the LoC.
Pakistani military spokesman Major General Athar Abbas said in
Islamabad: "The helicopter had come deep into our airspace. It was
forced to land. Four Indian army officers have been taken into
safe custody. They are safe."
Pakistani later accepted the Indian version that the violation of
the Pakistani airspace was an accident, caused due to volatile
Immediately thereafter, the director general of military
operations (DGMA) in New Delhi got in touch with his Pakistani
counterpart to retrieve the chopper and its occupants.
India's foreign ministry also contacted the Pakistani government.
"It is understood that an army Cheetah helicopter flying from Leh
to Bhimbhat with four officers on board strayed across the Line of
Control due to inclement weather and landed in PoK
(Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir)," Vishnu Prakash had said earlier.