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President mourns as 11 soldiers perish in military helicopter crash

At least 11 Turkish soldiers, including a senior officer, were martyred and two others injured as a military helicopter crashed in eastern Turkey on Thursday, the National Defense Ministry said.

“The number of our martyrs has increased to 11. We wish Allah’s mercy upon our martyrs and extend our condolences to their precious families,” the ministry said on Twitter.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wished Allah’s mercy upon martyred soldiers and extended his condolences to their families, Turkish nation and the Turkish Armed Forces.

The president was informed by National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar following the crash.

Erdogan also spoke over the phone with Yigitalp Erbas, the son of the martyred Lt. Gen. Osman Erbas, Turkey’s Directorate of Communications said in a statement.

The president expressed his deep regret that Osman Erbas, who provided vital services to the country and the nation, lost his life in a painful accident, the statement said.

In an earlier statement, the ministry said 10 soldiers lost their lives and three soldiers were injured in the crash in Bitlis province.

Later, one of the soldiers succumbed to his wounds.

The contact with the Cougar-type military helicopter, which took off from the eastern Bingol province for the Tatvan district of Bitlis at 1.55 p.m. local time [1055GMT], was lost at 2.25 p.m. [1125GMT].

“The efforts are underway for the transfer of our injured personnel to the hospital,” the ministry said.

Turkey’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli announced on Twitter that Commander of the 8th Corps Lt. Gen. Osman Erbas was among the martyrs.

National Defense Minister Hulusi Akar along with Chief of General Staff Gen. Yasar Guler and Land Forces Commander Gen. Umit Dundar visited the site of the crash.

Meanwhile, Davut Bikec, an eyewitness from the Cekmece village of Tatvan district, said the crash happened around 2.30 p.m. local time (1130GMT).

“We did not realize that the helicopter crashed […] After a while, my children said that “a helicopter has crashed”, Bikec added.

He said there were 4 wounded people, and one of them was partially buried under the wreck.

“His mouth was stuffed with snow. I cleared the snow and helped him breathe,” he added.

“I asked him if he is okay. He told me, ‘I am okay’,” Bikec said, adding he dug the snow with his hands to free the trapped soldier.

“After I took him out, I asked him to stay still in case of any fractures. Then I approached another soldier. I took off my jacket and laid it on him,” he said.

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