Srinagar: The Indian Army helicopter, which strayed into Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK) and was forced to land there by Pakistani military has been released and sent back to India.
The helicopter with the four crew members onboard -- Maj Raja (pilot), Maj Kapila (co-pilot) and maintenance personnel--Lt. Col Verma and Sub Akhilesh Sharma -- returned safely back to Kargil just before sunset, hours after it strayed into Pakistan territory.
Expressing relief over return of its officers and helicopter, a relieved India said it "greatly appreciates" the neighbouring nation.
"We are relieved that our officers and helicopter are back in India. We greatly appreciate the manner in which Pakistan worked with us in resolving the matter," Ministry of External Affairs said in New Delhi.
"An early intervention of diplomatic and military channels saw the matter being resolved amicably," an Indian Army statement said.
The four Army officers onboard, who were taken into "military custody", were allowed to fly back after they were questioned by Pakistan Army. The Pakistan Army was reportedly satisfied with the verification.
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of External Affairs established contact with Pakistani counterparts to ensure the safe and early release of Indian Army officers.
Military and diplomatic channels of the two countries were activated to defuse the crisis.
The Director General of Military Operations (DGMO) of India and Pakistan were in constant touch. In addition, the Indian High Commission in Islamabad was also in touch with the Pakistani side.
The Cheetah helicopter, part of the Indian Army`s 666 Siachen Falcons squadron, was flying from Leh to Bhimbad when it strayed into PoK due to inclement weather.
An Indian Army statement said the helicopter "inadvertently" crossed over into PoK in the Gultari sector, due to "inclement" weather.
The statement said the chopper was on a routine administration and maintenance flight moving from Leh to Bimbat in Drass sector to rectify another Cheetah helicopter which had landed there due to technical snag.
Pakistani Army, however, alleged that the chopper was "forced to land" in Pakistan territory after it "violated" the airspace over their country.