Captured crew members of Pakistani helicopter return home

Six crew members of a Pakistani helicopter which crashed-landed in Afghanistan's eastern Logar Province have safely arrived in Islamabad after being released through an 'inter-tribe' exchange.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

A file photo of Mi-17 transport helicopter that crash-landed in Afghanistan's Logar province on August 4.

Pakistan said on Saturday that the six crew members of a helicopter which crash-landed in Afghanistan on August 4 have been released and arrived back home safely.

The helicopter crew, including five Pakistanis and a Russian navigator, have landed in Pakistan's capital city Islamabad after flying from a tribal region on the Pakistan-Afghan border. 

It is currently unclear where they were kept in Afghanistan.

All six of the crew are "safe and in good health," he said, adding that the helicopter belonged to the Punjab provincial government.

Their names are Captain Safdar Hussain (chief pilot),Captain Safdar Ashraf, Captain Muhammad Shafiq-ur-Rehman (first officer), Nasir Mahmood (flight engineer), Muhammad Kausar (crew chief) and Sergei Sevastianov (Russian navigator).

According to a statement from Pakistan's Foreign Ministry: "The crew was released in an inter-tribe exchange on the Pakistan-Afghan border in FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas]. They were further transported from FATA to Islamabad by a helicopter. All crew members are safe and in good health." 

Russia's Foreign Ministry said the navigator would be handed over to Moscow's embassy in Islamabad, which would organise his return home.

No further details were shared with the media regarding who kept the crew hostage and how the release was made possible.

The Russian made MI-17 helicopter, belonging to Pakistan’s Punjab Government, had made an emergency landing in Afghanistan’s eastern Logar Province due to a technical fault on August 4. The province is believed to be a stronghold of the Afghan Taliban.

The helicopter was on its way to Russia for maintenance. Pakistan has formal permission from the Afghan Government to use the airspace.

Following the crash-landing, reports emerged from Afghanistan suggesting militants affiliated to the Afghan Taliban took the crew members hostage and set the helicopter on fire.

Afghan Taliban sources suggested the group mistakenly seized the crew after wrongly identifying the helicopter as belonging to NATO.

File photo shows Taliban militants in an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

Pakistani authorities contacted the Kabul administration to ensure the safe release of the captive Pakistani crew members. Pakistan's top military commander, General Raheel Sharif, contacted the Afghan president to seek his support in the release of the crew members.   

"President Ashraf Ghani assured all possible assistance in this regard," he posted on Twitter.

Analysts said it was not clear how the Pakistan Government secured the crew's safe release.

"Our government is tight lipped while the army also did not say anything about the role of the Afghan government," security analyst Hasan Askari told Agence France Presse.

The Afghan Taliban have not commented on the conditions of the release.

"One thing is however, very clear – that the Afghan Taliban certainly do not want to deteriorate their ties with Pakistan," Askari said.

The Pakistani Army uses Russian-made MI-17 helicopters, several of which have crashed in recent years.

TRTWorld and agencies