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Heather Cruden, Canada's High Commissioner to Pakistan and a photo of the scene where a Pakistani army helicopter crashed in Nalter Valley, Gilgit, Pakistan

The Associated Press

The Canadian high commissioner to Pakistan was meant to travel in a military helicopter carrying foreign diplomats and family that crashed in the country's mountainous north on Friday.

Instead, a last-minute helicopter change put Heather Cruden and three other female ambassadors from Lebanon, Austria and France on a "VIP helicopter" courtesy of Pakistan's prime minister, who was also in the region at the time to launch two projects, according to the Pakistan ministry of foreign affairs.

The female ambassadors flew ahead of the main group on the helicopter belonging to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif. "… He wanted the four lady ambassadors to go separately and it was a gesture of goodwill on behalf of our prime minister," said Ali Anser, deputy chief of protocol at Pakistan's Ministry Of Foreign Affairs, which organized the nearly 60-member group's visit to development projects in the Gilgit region.

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The helicopter crash killed the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines and the wives of the Malaysia and Indonesia ambassadors.

"The Canadian high commissioner was not in that helicopter, she was in a separate helicopter and she is safe and sound," Mr. Anser said.

The prime minister's helicopter arrived safely at its destination.

The day started in Islamabad, then the diplomats and their families were transported by plane to Gilgit, the main city in the Gilgit-Baltistan territory.

From there, four helicopters were to carry them to the Naltar Valley, nearly 50 kilometres away, where they were to visit development projects.

The first two of the four helicopters carrying the main group of foreign dignitaries arrived safely. But the third helicopter crashed during an emergency landing, hitting a school. The Mi-17 helicopter was carrying eleven foreigners and six Pakistanis when it came down. Seven people were killed, including three members of the Pakistani crew. The Polish and Dutch ambassadors were among five people injured.

A tweet sent from the Canadian high commissioner's account expressed condolences: "My thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and families of those who lost loved ones in today's crash."

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The Pakistani ministry of foreign affairs said that Ms. Cruden would likely have been on the third helicopter that crashed had she not been moved to the prime minister's helicopter.

"That could have varied but as per plan that was the case," Mr. Anser said. "But of course we make such decisions on the ground."

He said Ms. Cruden was travelling alone and without Canadian staff. A spokeswoman for the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs could not immediately provide more details.

The cause of the crash remains unclear. The Pakistan military said early information indicated that it was a technical fault. The Pakistan Taliban claimed responsibility, saying that it had shot down the helicopter. But ground witnesses said there was no evidence of a missile or rocket attack.

Ms. Cruden, previously Canada's envoy to Bangladesh, was appointed to her post in Pakistan last October.

With reports from Reuters

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