Top Indian general dies in helicopter crash

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Friday, December 10, 2021

On Wednesday, India's Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat died in a helicopter crash in the hills near the Coonoor city of Tamil Nadu. The general was flying to Wellington, Tamil Nadu with 13 others. Among the dead were his wife and other top defence personnel. The aircraft involved in the crash was a Mil Mi-17 v5. The Indian Air Force later confirmed the death of all but one of the 14 persons on the flight.

The official portrait of General Bipin Rawat.
Image: Integrated Defence Staff.

The helicopter took off from Sulur Air Force Station and was headed to the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington, Tamil Nadu. General Rawat, his wife and his staff were travelling to the DSSC, where Rawat was to address the college's faculty and student officers. At 12:08 PM local time (0638 UTC), the helicopter lost contact with the Sulur Air force base. It subsequently crashed near a residential colony of private tea estate employees on the outskirts of the hamlet of Nanjappachatiram, Bandishola Panchayat, in the Katteri-Nanchappanchathram area of Coonoor Taluk, Nilgiris district.

Krishnaswamy, an eyewitness told the BBC, "Even the electric poles shook. Trees toppled. There was smoke everywhere, there was a raging flame above the trees. I saw just one person with my own eyes, he was burning, and he fell down." Reportedly, the crash victims were burnt beyond recognition. The only survivor Group Captain Varun Singh is undergoing treatments in the military hospital in Wellington. The cause of the crash remains unknown but is suspected to be bad weather and poor visibility. The Indian Air Force has initiated an inquiry about the crash to ascertain the reason.

The Defence Minister of India Rajnath Singh expressed deep condolences about the incident and stated, he was "deeply anguished by the sudden demise of Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other Armed Forces personnel in an extremely unfortunate helicopter accident today in Tamil Nadu. His untimely death is an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country." Rawat was the first Chief of Defence Staff of India who was appointed in December 2019 by the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet.