Turkish nation in mourning after 11 soldiers die in helicopter crash in Bitlis

Eleven soldiers were killed when a helicopter carrying them in eastern Turkey crashed in adverse weather conditions.

The tragic accident occurred on Thursday afternoon about 10 kilometres from the city of Tatvan in Bitlis province, where the helicopter was heading.

Lieutenant General Osman Erbaş, the head of the Turkish army’s 8th Corps, was among the dead.

Initial reports said that nine soldiers had died and four were injured in the crash. The figures were revised by the Ministry of Defence, with the death toll rising to eleven late on Thursday.

The soldiers had been travelling in a Cougar-type military helicopter. Pictures from the scene of the accident near the village of Çekmece shows the area covered in thick snow and visibility in the mountainous region poor.

A statement from the Defence Ministry said that contact with the helicopter had been lost 30 minutes after it had taken off from Bingöl at 13.55 local time, heading for Tatvan.

Speaking from 8th Corps Command in Elazığ province earlier today, Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said:

“Based on initial information and witnesses’ statements, it is believed that the crash occurred due to suddenly changing adverse weather conditions.”

The Defence Minister said the exact cause of the crash will be determined following a thorough investigation, which was already underway.

Speaking after news of the tragedy broke, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wrote on Twitter:

“As a result of the crash of a military helicopter on its way from Bingöl to Tatvan in Bitlis, 11 of our country’s children were martyred.

“I wish mercy from Allah to our heroic martyrs and a swift recovery to our wounded. My deepest condolences to the bereaved families and our beloved nation.”

A funeral ceremony for the soldiers took place in Ankara earlier today, attended by President Erdoğan, members of his government including Mr Akar, and leaders of the main opposition parties.

Turkey also received condolences from around the world:

Ersin Tatar, president of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, and the Azerbaijan government were among the first to extend their deepest sympathies to the Turkish nation.  President Tatar wrote in Turkish:

“As a result of the helicopter crash in Bitlis-Tatvan, 9 of our soldiers were martyred and 4 of our soldiers were injured. On behalf of myself and the Turkish Cypriot people, I wish mercy from Allah to our martyrs, condolences to our nation, and a swift recovery to our wounded soldiers.”

NATO’s Allied Land Command tweeted:

“We are saddened to learn of the tragic loss of life resulting from the crash of a Turkish Army helicopter in #Bitlis today. #LANDCOM offers sincere condolences to our Turkish allies, colleagues & the nation. Our thoughts are with the families of the fallen & the wounded.

The US Embassy also extended its condolences to Turkey: “The Embassy of the United States offers its sincere condolences for the Turkish soldiers killed and wounded in the tragic helicopter crash in #Bitlis.  Our thoughts are with the families of all those affected, and we wish a rapid recovery to the injured. @tcsavunma”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab led the condolences message from the UK. He tweeted:

“Saddened to hear reports of a military helicopter crash in #Bitlis that killed and wounded Turkish soldiers. Our thoughts are with their families and the whole of Turkey tonight.”

Multiple ambassadors to Turkey, including the Britain’s Sir Dominick Chilcott, EU’s Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, Denmark’s Danny Annan, and Germany’s Jürgen Schulz, along with embassies such as Pakistan and Canada also offered their condolences to Turkey through social media posts.