A helicopter carrying senior military officials went missing in Balochistan on Monday night. According to an official statement issued by Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), “A Pakistan army aviation helicopter which was on flood relief operations in Lasbela, Balochistan lost contact with ATC [air traffic control]”.

Six individuals were on board including the Commander XII Corps Lt Gen Sarfraz Ali, who was supervising the flood relief operations in Balochistan. Some reports also suggested that Pakistan Coast Guard Director General Brigadier Amjad Hanif Satti, was also on board the missing chopper.

According to the military’s media wing, a search operation was under way at the time of going to press, and more details would be released as information became available.

Talking about the search operation, Deputy Inspector General of Police Khuzdar Range Pervez Umrani told Dawn that police and Frontier Corps personnel were conducting a joint search operation for the last five hours.

Police sources told Dawn that area where the chopper went missing was mountainous terrain, without even jeep paths, making it extremely difficult for search and rescue parties.

“Either you go on foot or motorcycles or conduct aerial surveillance,” a senior official said.

Other difficulties include lack of cell phones coverage and no electricity. Police are said to have engaged the services of local volunteers to assist with the search operation.

Military personnel and equipment, including helicopters, have been engaged in relief operations in the flood-hit districts of Balochistan for weeks now.

On Monday, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also in Balochistan alongside National Disaster Management Authority head Lt Gen Akhtar Nawaz.

A distinguished officer

On Nov 25, 2020, Gen Sarfraz Ali, who was serving as a major general, was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General. Following his promotion, he was posted as the corps commander of XII Corps, which is also known as the Southern Command, in 2021.

Before his posting to the Quetta corps, he served as the inspector general of the Frontier Corps in South Balochistan, director general of Military Intelligence, and commander of the 111 Brigade in Rawalpindi. He had also served as defence attache at the Pakistani embassy in the United States.

Outpouring of concern

As the reports of the helicopter’s disappearance spread, several key figures expressed concern and prayed for the safety of all those on board.

While expressing “great concern” over the incident, President Arif Alvi prayed for the safety of the passengers, according to a tweet from the Presidency’s official account.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif tweeted: “The reports of missing helicopter of Army Aviation are very concerning. The whole nation bows in front of Allah for safety and return of personnel involved in flood relief operations.”