Nation mourns as eleven Turkish soldiers killed in helicopter crash
Funeral ceremonies were held on March 5 for the 11 soldiers killed when a Cougar-type military helicopter crashed in heavy weather in the eastern province of Bitlis the previous day.
Television images from the crash site showed the ground blanketed in snow and visibility hampered by thick clouds in the mountainous region.
Ruling AKP party lawmaker Tolga Ağar, who sits on parliament’s defense committee, tweeted that Lieutenant General Osman Erbaş was among the dead.
Erbaş is officially listed as the head of the Turkish army’s 8th Corps.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered his condolences to Erbaş’ son, Yigitalp, and his family in a telephone call, the presidency said in a statement.
The defense ministry said contact with the helicopter was lost in the Bitlis province 30 minutes after it had taken off.
It initially said nine soldiers were killed and four wounded before revising the death toll to 11 late Thursday.
The crash may have been caused by adverse weather conditions, Turkish National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said early on March 5.
"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 Elazığ province.
He said the exact cause of the crash will be determined following a detailed investigation which will begin later in the day.
"I pray for Allah’s mercy for our nine martyrs... Our pain is great," Erdoğan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalın tweeted earlier.
The European Union and the United States immediately offered their condolences to the NATO ally.
"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 a 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 U.S. embassy said in a tweet.
A Turkish diplomatic source said NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg offered his condolences in a telephone call with Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and added the alliance "stood in solidarity with Turkey."
The Turkish defense ministry said the accident involved a Cougar helicopter but provided no details about the model.
The Cougar family of multi-purpose helicopters was developed by France and are now produced by Airbus.
A formal investigation into the incident had been launched on March 5.
On March 5, a funeral service for the soldiers was conducted in Elazığ where Minister Akar told reporters that the two wounded soldiers are in good condition.
Lamenting the loss of Lt. Gen. Erbaş in the “tragic accident,” Akar called him a “friend” who had “served the armed forces.”
A second funeral service was conducted in the capital Ankara.
Speaking at the funeral, Erdoğan praised Erbaş, saying, “Beyond his service as a commander, he was a particular man with his own stance.”
The crash was the deadliest since 13 soldiers died in the southeastern Şırnak province near Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq in 2017.