MUJHOI, Pakistan – One of three helicopters escorting President Gen. Pervez Musharraf crashed in Pakistan's portion of Kashmir on Monday, killing four passengers and injuring five, officials said. The president was unhurt.
Maj. Gen. Waheed Arshad, an army spokesman, blamed a "technical fault" for the crash of the military helicopter and said Musharraf had already reached his destination when the accident occurred.
The crash revived concern about the safety of the U.S.-allied general who has survived several assassination attempts. It happened two days after he secured a provisional victory in a controversial presidential election.
Musharraf traveled to Kashmir on Monday to commemorate the second anniversary of the Oct. 8, 2005, earthquake that killed nearly 80,000 people. The helicopter crashed in Mujhoi, about 12 miles south of Muzaffarabad, the main town in Pakistan's portion of the disputed Himalayan territory.
State television later aired video of Musharraf touring the quake zone.
The president's spokesman, Rashid Qureshi, was among the injured, suffering a burned right hand, officials said. He was in stable condition.
Arshad said the dead included an army brigadier, two soldiers and a cameraman for Pakistan Television. Two pilots and a technician escaped unhurt, he said.
In Mujhoi, hundreds of residents and scores of soldiers swarmed around the still-smoldering wreckage, 100 yards from the Jhelum River. Part of the helicopter's tail jutted above the crowd. At least four ambulances, sirens wailing, left the scene carrying injured people.
Witnesses said the helicopter's engine was on fire before it hit the ground but there was no indication it had come under attack. Minutes before, two other helicopters flew past the village, they said.
Naseer Ahmed, a resident, said the noise of the engine suddenly grew louder and the pilots found level terrain on the outskirts of the village for an emergency landing. He said several passengers jumped from the chopper before it hit the ground and exploded.
He said he helped drag bodies out of the burning chopper.
The helicopter was one of three taking Musharraf and others to Muzaffarabad for quake commemorations, said a senior army official speaking on condition of anonymity because was not authorized to comment to media.
Arshad said only that an army helicopter made a crash landing in the Jhelum Valley due to a technical fault while en route to Muzaffarabad. He declined to say how close Musharraf had been to the crash.
"The president was in some other chopper and he safely reached where he had to go," he said.
Security was tight in Muzaffarabad on Monday, restricting residents' movement around the city in anticipation of the visit. Military officials later said that Musharraf was in the city, about 60 miles northeast of the capital, Islamabad.
Helicopter accidents are not uncommon in the rugged Kashmir region, but the crash came at a sensitive time.
Musharraf, who seized power in a 1999 coup, swept a presidential election by lawmakers on Saturday that was boycotted by most of the opposition because he contested the vote while still army chief. Musharraf has to wait for a Supreme Court ruling on his eligibility to find out whether he will win a new five-year term.
Musharraf has promised to quit the military and restore civilian rule before beginning the new term in which he has vowed to step up the fight against Islamic extremism.
His nominated successor, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, was promoted Monday to the post of vice chief of the army and is to take the top job as soon as Musharraf vacates it.
Under the constitution, the chairman of the Senate, or upper house of parliament, takes over if a sitting president dies.
The country's previous military ruler, Gen. Zia-ul Haq, died in an unexplained explosion on board a Pakistani military aircraft in 1988 along with U.S. Ambassador Arnold L. Raphael and several other top generals.
In March 2006, a Red Cross helicopter crashed in Kashmir while delivering food aid to earthquake survivors, injuring its two South African pilots. Six Pakistani soldiers died when an Mi-17 helicopter crashed in bad weather near the Kashmiri town of Bagh a week after the quake.