Pakistan chopper 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
A helicopter crashed while carrying aides to President Gen. Pervez Musharraf and, though blamed on a technical fault, it revived concerns for the Pakistani leader's safety as his war with Islamic militants intensifies.
The army said four people died when the craft attempted an emergency landing Monday, but the US-allied leader was never in danger.
However, as new fighting rages against extremists on the Afghan border, it was a reminder that Musharraf has survived several assassination attempts.
His entourage was on three helicopters heading to the Pakistani portion of the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, to commemorate the second anniversary of an earthquake that killed nearly 80,000 people.
An army spokesman, Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, said Musharraf had reached his destination when one of the two accompanying helicopters crashed.
The army launched an inquiry into the crash at Mujhoi village, 20 kilometers south of Pakistani Kashmir's capital, Muzaffarabad.
Resident Naseer Ahmed said several passengers jumped from the helicopter before it hit the ground and exploded in flames.
There was no indication of hostile fire, but the crash refocused attention on the security of Musharraf, who is in the midst of a bitter fight over his bid for a new presidential term and faces rising militant attacks on the Afghan border.
Pakistan's previous military ruler, Gen. Zia-ul Haq, died in an unexplained explosion aboard a Pakistani military aircraft in 1988 along with US Ambassador Arnold L. Raphael and several other top generals.
On Saturday, Musharraf swept a presidential election by national and provincial legislators. The Supreme Court has blocked making the results official until it rules whether he was eligible to run while simultaneously holding the post of army chief.
Musharraf, who ousted a civilian government in 1999, has promised to quit the military if elected. He says he wants to prolong his presidency to fight Islamic extremism.
He first threw Pakistan's support behind the US-led war on terrorist groups after the Sept. 11 attacks, but despite the deployment of more than 90,000 Pakistani soldiers along the border with Afghanistan, the militants' grip on the tribal regions has grown tighter.
Violence in the area has killed combatants and civilians, and has sharpened domestic criticism of Musharraf's US alliance, which has seen his troops in off-and-on battles with Islamic militants as well as Taliban and al-Qaida fighters who took refuge in Pakistan after the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.