NEW DEHLI: Top Indian military official General Bipin Rawat, along with 12 others — including Rawat’s wife — was killed on Wednesday when an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter crashed in Tamil Nadu’s Coonoor, the Indian Air Force announced.
India TV reported the 63-year-old Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) as receiving burns to 70-80% of his body.
Those on board the Russian-made Mi-17V5 chopper, included Rawat’s wife, the defense secretary, security commander and air force pilots.
The chopper was already making its descent at the time of the crash.
It came down around 10 kilometres (six miles) from the nearest main road, forcing emergency workers to trek to the accident site, a fire official told AFP.
Footage from the scene showed a crowd of people trying to extinguish the fiery wreck with water buckets while a group of soldiers carried one of the passengers away on an improvised stretcher.
The sole survivor of the crash, a captain working at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), was being treated for his injuries at a nearby military hospital, the air force said.
The chopper was moving from Sulur in Coimbatore to DSSC in Wellington where Rawat, along with Chief of Army Staff MM Naravane, was scheduled to address students and faculty.
Earlier, three passengers who were reported to have been rescued were said to have suffered serious injuries — with some Indian media outlets reporting they received burns to 85% of their bodies — and were taken to the hospital at Wellington cantonment in Nilgiris district.
Pakistan’s Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee Gen Nadeem Raza and Chief of Army Staff Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa “express condolences on tragic death of CDS Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and loss of precious lives in a helicopter crash in India”, a statement by the Inter-Services Public Relations said.
Rawat was India’s first CDS, a position that the Indian government established in 2019, and was seen as close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“His untimely death is an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country,” defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter.
Singh briefed the cabinet and is expected to make a statement in parliament on the incident tomorrow. He also visited Rawat’s home to brief his family about the incident.
Indian foreign minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said he was “deeply shocked” by the accident and Rawat’s death.
“We worked closely together in the last few years. It is a huge loss to the nation,” he said.