Eleven Turkish soldiers were killed when their military helicopter crashed Thursday in heavy weather in the country’s restive southeast, the Agence France-Presse reported citing Turkish Defense Ministry.
Television images from the crash site showed the ground blanketed in snow and visibility hampered by thick clouds in the mountainous region.
Ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmaker Tolga Ağar, who sits on parliament’s defense committee, tweeted that Lieutenant General Osman Erbaş was among the dead.
Erbaş is officially listed as the head of the Turkish army’s 8th Corps.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered his condolences to Erbaş’ son, Yiğitalp, and his family in a telephone call, the presidency said in a statement.
The defense ministry said contact with the helicopter was lost in the Bitlis province 30 minutes after it took off.
“Nine heroic soldiers fell as martyrs and four were injured in the accident,” the defense ministry initially said, adding that the injured were being transported to hospital.
The defense ministry later said two other soldiers died after being taken to hospital.
“I pray for Allah’s mercy for our nine martyrs… Our pain is great,” Erdoğan’s spokesman İbrahim Kalın tweeted earlier.
Turkish media reports said Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, Interior Minister Süleyman 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 Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, and added the alliance “stood in solidarity with Turkey”.
The Turkish defense ministry said the accident involved a Cougar helicopter but provided no details about the model.
The Cougar family of multi-purpose 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 Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants.
In 2017, a military helicopter crashed in the southeastern Şırnak province near Turkey’s border with Syria and Iraq, killing 13 soldiers.