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 hours.
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 Adilesh Sharma.
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 weather.
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.
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