An army helicopter crashed in southeast Turkey on Thursday, killing 11 military personnel and injuring two others, the defence ministry said.
The Cougar-type helicopter crashed near the village of Cekmece, close to the town of Tatvan, in the predominantly Kurdish-populated Bitlis province. It was on its way to Tatvan from the nearby province of Bingol when authorities lost contact with it at 2:25pm (11:25 GMT), the ministry said. Nine of the victims died at the crash site, while two died of their injuries in hospital, officials said.
The victims included Lieutenant-General Osman Erbas, an army corps commander, said Devlet Bahceli, the leader of Turkey’s main nationalist party, on Twitter. The defence ministry described the crash as accidental but did not elaborate. Turkish media reports said Defence Minister Hulusi Akar, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, and senior military figures were travelling to the site of the crash. 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 US 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 Mevlut Cavusoglu, and added the alliance “stood in solidarity with Turkey”.
The Cougar family of multipurpose helicopters was developed by France and are now produced by Airbus. The accident occurred in a region where Turkish forces regularly conduct military operations against outlawed Kurdish militias. In 2017, a military helicopter crashed in the southeastern Sirnak province near Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq, killing 13 soldiers.