There were some nervous moments in Delhi when an army helicopter strayed into Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) on Sunday. India moved diplomatic and military channels to secure the release of the chopper, which Pakistan army said would have been shot down had the crew not followed its instructions to force land.
The chopper and crew — two majors (pilot and co-pilot), a lieutenant colonel and a junior commissioned officer — were allowed to fly back to Kargil at around 6pm.
Pakistan army officials said the helicopter was released after a ‘brief questioning’ of crew and refuelling of the machine.
The 666 Siachen Falcons squadron chopper was on its way from Leh to Bhimbat in Drass sector when it encountered bad weather and strayed into PoK, army sources said. The Siachen Falcons are the lifeline of the India troops posted at the world’s highest battlefield.
Indian Army’s director general of military operations (DGMO) activated a hotline with his Pakistani counterpart to resolve the row, government sources said.
The chopper was flying maintenance personnel to repair another Cheetah that had been grounded in Bhimbat due to a technical snag.
The helicopter was made to land in a clearing on the fringes of Olding, a Pakistani army outpost some 20km inside PoK in Gilgit-Baltistan area. A Pakistani air defence unit established contact with the Cheetah and asked the “intruding machine” to land, Pakistan army spokesperson Maj Gen Athar Abbas told HT. “If they had not complied, we would have opened fire,” Abbas said.
According to Inter-Services Public Relations directorate, the public relations wing of the Pakistan army, "it was the timely action by the Pakistan air force that compelled the Indian helicopter to make the landing".
The crew was questioned on the circumstances leading to violation of airspace in a "sensitive sector", Abbas said. The matter was resolved after the Indian DGMO explained to his Pakistani counterpart how the chopper had wandered off, he said.