A military chopper carrying Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and 13 more crashed shortly after take-off today in Tamil Nadu. Thirteen people have died and one male survivor is being treated for severe burns. There is no official word on General Bipin Rawat’s condition.
General Rawat’s wife, his Defence Assistant, security commandos and Air Force personnel were on board.
“An IAF Mi-17 V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. An Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident,” tweeted the Air Force.
The crash took place shortly after the Russian-made Mi-17 V5 chopper took off from the Air Force base in Sulur, Coimbatore, for Wellington in the Nilgiri Hills.
The helicopter was already making its descent and would have landed in 10 more minutes. It came down around 10 km from the nearest road, forcing emergency workers to trek to the accident site, said news agency AFP.
Reports of the crash emerged around 12.20 pm.
Videos showed wreckage scattered on a hillside and rescuers struggling through thick smoke and fire to locate bodies. Charred bodies were pulled out by locals and cops from under mangled metal and fallen trees.
General Rawat, 63, took charge as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff in January 2019. The position was set up with the aim of integrating the three services – the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
A former Army Chief, General Rawat was also appointed the head of the newly-created Department of Military Affairs.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh visited General Rawat’s home in Delhi.
Many former army chiefs expressed grief; they described the Mi-17 double engine chopper as a very stable aircraft used for VVIP flights.