A military chopper carrying Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat and 13 others crashed shortly after take-off today in Tamil Nadu, the Indian Air Force said. Thirteen people have died and one male survivor is being treated for severe burns. The condition of General Bipin Rawat is not known.
General Rawat’s wife, his Defence Assistant, security commandos and Air Force personnel were also 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. Army Chief MM Naravane has visited General Rawat’s home in Delhi.
An IAF Mi-17V5 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.
— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) December 8, 2021
General Rawat had taken a flight from Delhi to Sulur in Coimbatore earlier today. The crash took place shortly after the Russian-made Mi-17 V5 chopper took off from the Air Force base in Sulur 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.
The crash was first reported around 12.20 pm.
#WATCH | Latest visuals from the spot (between Coimbatore and Sulur) where a military chopper crashed in Tamil Nadu. CDS Gen Bipin Rawat, his staff and some family members were in the chopper.
(Video Source: Locals involved in search and rescue operation) pic.twitter.com/YkBVlzsk1J
— ANI (@ANI) December 8, 2021
Visuals showed wreckage scattered on a hillside and rescuers struggling through thick smoke and fire. 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. The “CDS” is seen to be the pivot of long-delayed modernisation of the defence forces.
He was also appointed the head of the newly-created Department of Military Affairs.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the incident. He is likely to make a statement in parliament tomorrow.
Many former army chiefs expressed grief; they described the Mi-17 double engine chopper as a very stable aircraft used for VVIP flights.