General Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, died today after a military chopper crashed in Tamil Nadu, killing 13 on board.
One man is being treated for severe burns.
General Rawat’s wife, travelling with him, was also killed.
“With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident,” the Indian Air Force (IAF) tweeted.
The IAF had confirmed a little before 2 pm that an Mi-17 V5 helicopter with General Rawat on board had “met with an accident near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu”.
The Air Force also said it had ordered an Inquiry into what happened.
The helicopter crashed shortly after it took off from the Air Force base in Sulur at 11.45 am, Coimbatore, for Wellington in the Nilgiri Hills.
The General was heading to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington.
It was making its descent and would have landed in 10 more minutes when it came down, barely 10 km from a road.
Videos showed steaming wreckage scattered on a hillside and rescuers struggling through smoke and fire to locate bodies. Charred bodies were pulled out from under mangled metal and fallen trees.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, briefed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) at his residence. The Defence Minister and Army Chief MM Naravane visited General Rawat’s home in Delhi long before the official announcement.
General Rawat, 63, took charge as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff in January 2019. The position was created to integrate the three services – the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
The Chief of Defence Staff is the Permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and has to be the main military adviser to the Defence Minister besides giving impartial advice to the political leadership.
A former Army Chief, General Rawat was also appointed the head of the newly-created Department of Military Affairs.
The general joined the army as a second lieutenant in 1978 and had four decades of service behind him, having commanded forces in Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China.
Many former army chiefs expressed grief; they described the Mi-17 double engine chopper as a very stable aircraft used for VVIP flights.