Indian Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 others perished in an Indian Air Force Mi-17 V5 helicopter crash near Coonoor in the Nilgiris in western Tamil Nadu on Wednesday afternoon.
The chopper was just 10 km away from its destination – the Wellington Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), where General Rawat was to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Court, when it crashed and turned into a fireball around 12.25 pm.
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Eyewitnesses said they came out of their homes in Kattery near Coonoor on hearing loud sounds of helicopter blades whirring and saw the chopper crash into a tree before it was engulfed in flames.
Civilians were unable to jump into rescue operations immediately due to the blaze. “We were able to hear them scream but were unable to respond immediately,” said Krishanasamy, an eyewitness.
Group Captain Varun Singh, Directing Staff at DSSC, who sustained injuries, is admitted at the Military Hospital in Wellington.
Defence personnel along with uniformed men from the Tamil Nadu police and fire and rescue services departments arrived to undertake rescue operations with locals joining the efforts to douse the flames. While four passengers were initially rescued from the accident, three of them succumbed at the hospital. The bodies of the rest were retrieved in a charred condition from the spot.
The Army personnel who died included Brigadier L S Lidder, Lt Colonel Harjinder Singh (Security Officer to CDS), Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitendra Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar, Lance Naik B Sai Teja and Havildar Satpal (all personal security officers to the CDS). The crew members who died were pilot Wing Commander Chauhan, Squadron Leader Kuldeep and Junior Wing Officers Pradeep and Das.
Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari on Thursday morning reached the site of the chopper crash, that claimed the life of 13 people including Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and his wife, reported news agency ANI.
The IAF chief reached the crash site near Coonoor in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu along with state DGP C Sylendra Babu.
General Rawat was appointed as India's first Chief of Defense Staff on December 31, 2019. He previously served as Chief of the Army Staff from January 2017 to December 2019. He was commissioned into the Indian Army in December 1978.
A veteran of counterinsurgency warfare, CDS Rawat served in the most difficult terrains including Northern and Eastern commands.
With Inputs from N. Chithra and ANI