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.
Five bodies have been found from the crash site and two persons have been taken to hospital with severe burn injuries. A search is on for seven others.
General Rawat’s wife, his Defence Assistant, security commandos and Air Force personnel were among 14 people 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.
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 earlier today and that flight manifest had listed nine people. The flight from Sulur included five more, possibly crew.
The crash took place in the Nilgiris shortly after the Russian-made Mi-17 V5 chopper took off from the Air Force base in Sulur in Coimbatore for the Defence Staff Services College in Wellington.
The crash was first reported around 12.20 pm. The defence establishment learnt of the incident from villagers who had informed the district administration.
#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 steep hillside and rescuers at work, 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.
Many former army chiefs expressed grief; they described the Mi-17 double engine chopper as a very stable aircraft used for VVIP flights.