STEPANAKERT—The bodies of the three Artsakh pilots were retrieved from the Mi-24 helicopter crash site in a special military operation late on Nov. 21.
“As a result of the special operation, the remains of the crew were retrieved, as well as specific parts of the helicopter,” read a statement by the Artsakh Defense Ministry, which also noted that two Azeri soldiers were killed during the operation, while there were no casualties on the Armenian side.
The helicopter, which was on a training flight, was shot down by Azerbaijan on Nov. 12. Azeri armed forces continued to fire on the crash site preventing the Armenian side from approaching the downed helicopter. The three crew members were identified as Maj. Sergey Sahakyan, Sr. Lt. Sargis Nazaryan, and Lt. Azat Sahakyan.
According to Armenia’s Defense Ministry Spokesman Artsrun Hovhannisian, Artsakh’s Armed Forces were able to retrieve one of the bodies of the pilots, and the remains of the other two. He also stated that given Azerbaijan’s official statements and the lack of negotiating will, Artsakh’s Defense Army was forced to undertake such an operation to determine the fate of the helicopter crew.
The three crew members were posthumously awarded the Medal of Courage by Artsakh President Bako Sahakyan on Nov. 22, following the successful operation.
In a Nov. 13 statement, Nagorno-Karabakh Republic’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs called the attack “an unprecedented violation of the ceasefire fraught with serious escalation of tension.”
The Artsakh State Commission on Prisoners of War, Hostages, and Missing Persons appealed to the ICRC on Nov. 13, informing them of the continued gunfire that prevented the Armenian side from reaching the flight crew.
On Nov. 19, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs released a statement expressing “deep concern” over the inaccessibility of the crash site of the helicopter.
To note, following the downing of the helicopter, the OSCE Minsk Group Co-Chairs released a statement on Nov. 12, expressing “serious concern” over the attack, and appealed to both sides to adhere to the ceasefire. The Co-Chairs fell short of unequivocally condemning the attack as an act of aggression by Azerbaijan, instead opting to address both countries.
The downed helicopter was on a training flight as part of joint Armenia-Artsakh military drills in the area. The “Unity 2014” exercises involved over 30,000 troops, 3,000 armored vehicles, artillery, and air defense units, according to the Artsakh Defense Ministry website.