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Helicopter chopper resolves, officials return

New Delhi: Expressing relief over return of its officers and helicopter which had strayed into Pakistan- occupied Kashmir due to bad weather, India today said it "greatly appreciates" the manner in which Pakistan has worked with it in resolving the matter.

"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," Ministry of Exteranal Affairs said here. The Indian Army chopper which strayed into PoK earlier in the day was forced by Pakistani military to land there but the crisis was quickly defused and the helicopter carrying four Army personnel returned safely to Kargil.

The Ministry of External Affairs earlier said the Cheetah helicopter, flying from Leh to Bhimbad, with four officers on board, strayed across the Line of Control (LoC) due to inclement weather and landed in PoK. Pakistani Army said the chopper was forced to land once it "violated" the airspace over their country.

One Engineering officer of Lieutenant Colonel rank, two Majors (both pilots) and one JCO (technician), who were onboard the helicopter, were taken into "military custody" and

questioned by Pakistani authorities. Less than five hours after the incident, the chopper with all its crew were allowed to return and landed in Kargil just before sunset.

This was probably the third time that Indian pilots have landed inside Pakistani territory and

have come back safely. "I can recall two earlier incidents where Indian pilots landed inside Pakistan during war times and were taken as Prisoners of War (PoW) but then returned safely. "First was during 1965 war when Air Marshal Sikand (then Sqn Ldr) and second time when Flt Lt K Nachiketa was shot down over Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) during the Kargil war," Air Marshal (retd) A K Singh told PTI here.

Singh, who was Western Air Commander till 2007, also took part in the Kargil war as the in-charge of air operations of the command. He said on both the occasions, the pilots were released after remaining in captivity for relatively a longer time as they were taking part in war operations and were on enemy territory. Flt Lt Nachiketa was taken as a prisoner by the Pakistan Army on 27 May 1999 following ejection from his MiG-27 aircraft after suffering engine flame-out and sent back to India on June 3, 1999 after being interrogated by the authorities there.

"In today`s incident, the two pilots had strayed into their territory due to inclement weather and there is no war or war-like situation between the two sides. The helicopter was also not meant for any kind of reconnaissance mission," Singh said. The former Commander said during the 2005 earthquake relief operations, there were a few instances where Pakistani choppers had strayed over the Line of Control (LoC) over to the Indian side but since it was for humanitarian effort, no one objected to it.

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