The crash of a Pakistan Army MI-17 helicopter killing the ambassadors of Norway and the Philippines and at least five others — there is still uncertainty — is a tragedy with possibly far-reaching consequences. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and his entourage, as well as senior military officials and foreign diplomats, were all scheduled to visit Gilgit-Baltistan. The trip had been organised by the Foreign Office and was designed to promote tourism to the region, showing foreign representatives what was on offer for foreign tourists. It is of note that the British government in the last month has revised its travel advisory for Gilgit-Baltistan and lifted the restrictions it placed on British nationals visiting the region.
As of now, the reason why the helicopter went down is said to be because of a technical fault, according to the Director General of the Inter-Services Public Relations, with the defence minister stating that further investigations into the causes of the tragedy will be carried out. A board of inquiry has been established to determine the cause of the crash and the prime minister has announced a day of mourning for the victims.
If the crash is indeed the result of a technical fault, it will not be the first time this has happened. There have been at least four such crashes due to technical faults (or unknown causes) since 2004 killing at least 63 people. Pakistan has an aging fleet of transport helicopters and is cannibalising some for parts to keep others in the air. At the very least there needs to be an urgent review of the serviceability and operation of our transport helicopters, and equally a review of the protocols that allow so many high-value targets to be clustered inside a single airframe. This tragedy could have disastrous consequences — again — for the tourism industry in the region which was just beginning to revive after a long, dry spell that had seen the number of tourists to the area decline considerably. We extend our deepest condolences to the families of the victims.