A Pakistani military helicopter crashed Friday, killing six people, including Philippine ambassador to Pakistan Domingo Lucenario Jr.
The Pakistani Taliban claimed they downed the helicopter as part of a plot to kill Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.
Lucenario was killed along with the Norwegian envoy Leif H. Larsen, the wives of the Malaysian and Indonesian ambassadors, as well as the helicopter’s two pilots, according to official tweets by the army.
Polish ambassador Andrzej Ananiczolish and Dutch ambassador Marcel de Vink were also injured, the army said.
The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has yet to release a statement on the incident as of 6 p.m. last night, but an official who requested that he not be named confirmed that Lucenario was among the fatalities.
A picture showing DFA officials and employees gathered before the flagpole of the home office as Marine soldiers rendering a salute was posted on the social media account of a diplomat. The picture was captioned: “Sad day for the Philippine foreign service as it mourns loss of Ambassador Domingo Lucenario Jr. who perished in a helicopter crash in Pakistan today.”
A spokesman of the Pakistani Taliban said the group struck the aircraft with a ground-to-air missile hoping to assassinate Sharif — who officials said had been traveling to the same region in a plane.
“A special group of Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan had prepared a special plan to target Nawaz Sharif during his visit but he survived because he was traveling in another helicopter,” militant spokesman Muhammad Khorasani said.
It was not immediately possible to verify the Taliban claim and the northern region where the helicopter came down, Gilgit-Baltistan, is not known as a stronghold of the militant organization.
The Ministry of Defense said it was investigating what caused the crash, in which the helicopter fell onto a school and set the building ablaze. Officials clarified the school was shut at the time.
A passenger in one of the three helicopters, who requested anonymity, said the school caught fire after the crash.
The helicopter was one of three carrying a delegation of envoys to inspect projects on a three-day trip to Pakistan’s Gilgit-Baltistan territory where they were set to meet with Prime Minister Sharif.
Sharif “expressed deep grief and sorrow” over the incident, according to a statement issued by his office, which said he had been on his way to the region but his plane returned to Islamabad after hearing the news.
Sharif was set to inaugurate a chair-lift at a ski resort, one of the region’s top administrative officials told AFP.
According to a list of passengers obtained by Agence France-Presse, the ambassadors of Indonesia, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Romania, Norway, South Africa, the Philippines and Poland were scheduled to fly on the helicopter.
The injured were being airlifted to a military hospital in Gilgit, the region’s administrative capital, some 50 kilometers to the southwest, said another senior local police official.
In the city of Gilgit, a hospital official said the injured were being carried on stretchers to the emergency ward of the Combined Military Hospital.
Known for its spectacular mountain ranges and unique culture, Gilgit-Baltistan is a strategically important autonomous region that borders China, Afghanistan and Indian-held Kashmir.
A senior local administration official said the crash set the school building on fire, but that no children were in class at the time.
“The school, built by Pakistan Air Force for the children of the area, was closed as part of a security plan for the prime minister’s visit,” he said. Earlier, an official had said that the school was open.
Sher Ahmed, a local resident who was near the site of the crash, confirmed that the area had been under heavy security in preparation for the visit since Thursday.
“I was in my garden with my family watching the helicopters arriving when we heard a loud explosion and then the school building was in flames,” he said.
Ambassador Lucenario, known to friends as Doy, was the country’s ambassador to Kenya and non-resident envoy to Burundi, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, Rwanda, Seychelles, Uganda, Somalia and Tanzania prior to his posting to Pakistan. He was also the country’s permanent representative to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN Habitat).
According to the DFA website, Lucenario earlier served as vice consul and legal officer at the Philippine Consulate General in Hamburg, Germany (1986 to 1990); officer-in charge/third secretary and vice consul at the Philippine Embassy in Berlin (1990 to 1992); first secretary and consul at the Philippine Embassy in Canberra, Australia (1996 to 2000); and consul at the Philippine Consulate General in Hong Kong (2000 to 2004).
At the home office, he served as assistant secretary for Consular Affairs from 2005 to 2009, and chairman of the National Committee on Illegal Entrants (NCIE), chairman of the Inter-Agency Commitee on Passport Irregularities (ICPI) and assistant secretary general of the National Organizing Committee on the Asean Summit of 2007, the Global Forum on Migration and Development of 2008 and the Special Ministerial Meeting on the Non-Aligned Movement in 2009.
Lucenario also served as deputy chief of presidential protocol and as project manager of the Philippine Machine Readable/E-Passport Program.
He was the only career Filipino diplomat who has the “rare distinction” of having been awarded by the President of the Philippines with three major presidential awards–the Order of Sikatuna with the rank of Datu (Gold level) in 2009, the Order of Lakandula with the rank of Grand Officer (Maringal na Pinuno) in 2008, and the Gawad Mabini with the rank of Grand Officer (Dakilang Kamanong), also in 2008.
These awards were conferred on various occasions in recognition of “his significant role in the implementation of the Philippine machine readable/e-passport projects, his outstanding service as the assistant secretary general of the National Organizing Committee for the Asean Summit and other international conferences, and for his exceptional and meritorious services as a career diplomat.”
Lucenario graduated from San Beda College with a degree of Bachelor of Laws in 1984 and passed the Bar the same year. He also held academic degrees in Bachelor of Arts in Political Science, graduating magna cum laude from Manuel L. Quezon University, Master of Laws from the University of Manila, Diploma in International Relations from the Deutche Stiftung fur Internationale Entwicklung (DSE) in Berlin.