At least 11 soldiers have been killed after a military helicopter crashed in Turkey’s Bitlis province, the Turkish Defence Ministry said.

Wounded soldiers being carried to an ambulance after a Cougar-type military helicopter, which took off from the eastern province of Bingol to Tatvan district, crashed in Bitlis, Turkey, on March 04, 2021.
Wounded soldiers being carried to an ambulance after a Cougar-type military helicopter, which took off from the eastern province of Bingol to Tatvan district, crashed in Bitlis, Turkey, on March 04, 2021. (AA)

At least 11 Turkish soldiers were killed and two wounded when their military helicopter crashed in the southeast of the country, Turkey's Defence Ministry has said.

Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar attributed the crash to adverse weather conditions.

"Based on initial information and witnesses' statements, it is considered that the crash occurred due to suddenly changing adverse weather conditions," Akar said at the 8th Corps Command in Elazig province. 

"From the first moment, all kinds of support were provided by the relevant public institutions and organisations in a short time, by mobilising all means, both in search and rescue efforts and in the evacuation of our martyrs and injured," Akar said late on Thursday.

He said the exact cause of the crash will be determined following a detailed investigation which will begin later in the day. 

Television images from the crash site showed the ground blanketed in snow and visibility hampered by thick clouds in the mountainous region.

Governing AK Party lawmaker Tolga Agar, who sits of parliament's defence committee, tweeted that Lieutenant General Osman Erbas was among the dead.

Erbas is officially listed as the head of the Turkish army's 8th Corps.

The defence ministry did not immediately confirm the senior commander's death in a statement, which said contact with the helicopter was lost in the Bitlis province 30 minutes after it took off.

The defence ministry said injured were being transported to hospital.

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Condolences poured

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wished Allah's mercy upon "martyred" soldiers and sent his condolences to their families and the Turkish Armed Forces.

The president was also informed by Defense Minister Hulusi Akar following the crash.

Vice President Fuat Oktay took Twitter to express his condolences to martyred soldiers' families.

"The pain of our heroic soldiers who were martyred tore our hearts out. I wish mercy from Allah to our martyrs and quick recovery to our wounded," Oktay said.

"I pray for Allah's mercy for our nine martyrs... Our pain is great," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesperson Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.

"I wish a quick recovery to our wounded soldiers. Our pain is huge," he added.

Communications Director Fahrettin Altun also conveyed his condolences and wished mercy from Allah to martyrs and quick recovery to the injured.

The country's main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said: "I wish mercy from Allah to our soldiers who were martyred as a result of the crash of the military helicopter, my condolences and patience to their families and relatives, and quick recovery to our injured soldiers."

The European Union and the United States immediately offered their condolences.

"We share the deep sorrow of Turkey for the loss of nine military personnel in Bitlis," said the EU's Turkey ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, whose bloc will review its relations with Ankara at summit in Brussels later this month.

"Our thoughts are with the families of all those affected, and we wish a rapid recovery to the injured," the US embassy said in a tweet.

British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab also took to Twitter to extend his condolences to the families of the victims.

Officials on crash site

Turkish media reports said Defense Minister Hulusi Akar and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu were both traveling to the site of the crash.

The Cougar type helicopter was on its way to Tatvan from the nearby province of Bingol when it disappeared from radar at 2:25 pm (1125 GMT), the ministry said.

The Cougar family of multi-purpose helicopters were developed by France and are now produced by Airbus.

The accident occurred in a region where Turkish forces regularly conduct military operations against various terror organisations. 

In 2017, a military helicopter crashed in the southeastern Sirnak province near Turkey's border with Syria and Iraq, killing 13 soldiers.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies