Battagaram rescuers misidentified as Pakistan Army personnel in viral photo
Pakistan Army assisted during rescue mission hundreds of feet up in air
Claim: A picture shows a Pakistan Army officer rescuing people stranded on a chairlift that broke down in Battagram on 22 August 2023.
Fact: The image does not show a Pakistan Army officer, rather a member of a local adventure tourism company and the three passengers he rescued with the help of a zipline.
On 22 August 2023, journalist Anas Mallick posted a picture (archive) on X — formerly Twitter — of four people on a zipline following an incident where a makeshift chairlift broke down, leaving the eight people inside suspended hundreds of feet (archive) in the air for over 15 hours in Allai, Battagram in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.
Battagram — a city in Hazara Division less than a hundred kilometres from Mansehra — remained the highlight of the headlines on 22 August 2023 as news emerged early morning that cables connecting a makeshift chairlift used to transport children to school had snapped.
The aforementioned eight people included two adults and six minor students. All were evacuated following an hours-long operation involving locals and the armed forces.
In his tweet, Mallick wrote, “Just for the record, the person in the blue helmet leading the last of the stranded people from the cable chair is a Serving Military officer who brings those stuck to safety on the alternate zipline that was setup to rescue those stuck in #Battagram.”
In its report (archive), CNN quoted the Battagram District Deputy Commissioner Tanveer ur Rehman as saying the chairlift “was travelling between the villages of Btangi and Jhengarie” and “that strong winds had thwarted earlier attempts to reach those trapped”.
According to Al Jazeera (archive), two of the three cables through which the chairlift was moving snapped almost “five minutes into the roughly 10-minute journey”. Some locals have also reported that the journey is actually around two-to three-minute long.
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Rescue official Shariq Riaz Khattak told Reuters (archive) that the Pakistan Army helicopter mission was “complicated by gusty winds in the area and the fact that the choppers’ rotor blades risked further destabilising the lift”.
Once the operation was completed, Pakistan’s current caretaker prime minister, Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar, wrote (archive) on Twitter about the Battagram incident, “Our military, administration and local champions, hand in hand, defied danger to write a new chapter of valor.”
Fact or Fiction?
Soch Fact Check came across several social media posts that mention officials of Rescue 1122 Battagram were among the rescuers, as well as members of Heaven’s Way Zipline Adventure Pakistan, an adventure tourism company that provides zipline services and training, and Koka Engineering Company, along with personnel of the Pakistan Army’s Special Service Group (SSG).
Reports also emerged that police officials stopped (archive) locals from trying to rescue the stranded passengers until the helicopters sent by the Pakistan Army for the evacuation effort completed their operations, as per this video (archive).
We found the original video (archive) on the Facebook page of Heaven’s Way Zipline Adventure Pakistan, the caption of which identified the two rescuers seen in the clip as Ali Swati and Zahid Ali Hunzai.
The blue helmet that one of them wore also matches those seen in the photo gallery on the company’s website.
Soch Fact Check reached out to Muhammad Ali Swati, the founder and chief executive of Heaven’s Way Zipline Adventure Pakistan who was “summoned to aid in the rescue mission” and “airlifted to the site” by the military, according to this report (archive).
“In the blue helmet, black shirt, and grey trouser, that’s me, myself. Behind me, the three people that have been marked in the red circle are whom I rescued,” Swati told Soch Fact Check. He added that the military men were seen in another, different video, not in the one in question.
Swati also identified that the man wearing a yellow helmet in a similar video is his colleague, Ilyas.
Apart from this, another man seen in a viral picture before getting on a zipline was identified as Sahib Khan of Koka Engineering Company. Khan — whose “family specialise in building cable cars” — rescued one child, according to BBC (archive), and lamented that “there are many manufacturers of elevators, but no one does rescue operations”.
An unnamed officer who witnessed the rescue mission told Soch Fact Check that one child was rescued by the Army helicopter, while the others were saved by members of Heaven’s Way Zipline Adventure Pakistan, Sahib Khan, and a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) team.
Swati told Hum News’ morning show — at the 2:35 mark (archive) — that Mansehra Deputy Commissioner Captain (r) Bilal Shahid Rao reached out to him, saying the Pakistan Army was engaged in a rescue operation and that his company’s help was required because “you have to rescue them via zipline”.
He added that his team comprised three members: himself, his supervisor, Ilyas, who was wearing a yellow helmet, and another person named Hammad. He went on to say it took about three to three-and-a-half hours after darkness fell for the remaining seven people to be rescued.
His hand — which can be seen bandaged in this video (archive) — was injured when it got stuck in a rope that was pulled for approximately 400 feet, he said, adding that when it slackened off midway, he was able to pull it out.
On Facebook, we found it here.
Conclusion: The image does not show Pakistan Army officers but, in fact, members of a local adventure tourism company and the three passengers they rescued with the help of a zipline.
Background image in cover photo: @bbcurdu
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