India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika, and 11 others were killed in a helicopter crash near Coonoor in the Nilgiri hills in Tamil Nadu Wednesday.
“With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident,” the Indian Air Force’s official account tweeted.
Group Captain Varun Singh SC, Directing Staff at DSSC with injuries is currently under treatment at Military Hospital, Wellington, the IAF added.
Condoling CDS’s death, PM Modi said, “Gen Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernising our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply.”
IAF chopper crashed into trees, caught fire
Sources in the defence and security establishment said the CDS and others on board an Indian Air Force Mi-17V5 chopper were traveling from Sulur air base to Wellington when the helicopter crashed into the trees in the valley at about 12:20pm and caught fire.
Sources said a search and rescue operation was launched immediately.
They added that Gen Rawat was among the four who were rescued initially from the spot. Though badly hurt and bleeding, he was still breathing and was rushed to the Military Hospital in Wellington in the Nilgiris where the Defence Services Staff College is located.
However, he succumbed to his injuries. The body of his wife was among the five recovered initially from the spot. Gen Rawat is survived by his two daughters.
A total of 14 personnel were on board the aircraft including Wing Commander Prithvi Singh, who was the pilot and the Commanding Officer of the 109 Helicopter Unit.
Sources said everyone on board, including Brig L.S. Lidder, the Defence Advisor to the CDS and his Staff Officer Lt Col Harjinder Singh were badly injured and had suffered various degrees of burns.
Sources added that Rawat was on an official visit to deliver a lecture at the Staff College and had reached Sulur in an Embraier aircraft of the IAF at about 1130.
Since the road journey would have been for about two and half hours, he proceeded to Wellington on board the Mi-17V5 chopper, bought under a 2008 deal with Russia for 80 such helicopters.
Gen Rawat had flown to Sulur on board the IAF’s Embraer from the national capital.
The IAF has launched an inquiry into the accident and it was immediately not known the cause of the accident.
Eyewitness accounts said the chopper, which was 10 minutes away from landing, was flying low seconds before the crash.
Tributes pour in
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh termed CDS Rawat’s death “an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country.”
“General Rawat had served the country with exceptional courage and diligence. As the first Chief of Defence Staff he had prepared plans for jointness of our Armed Forces,” he said.
“A very sad day for the nation as we have lost our CDS, General Bipin Rawat Ji in a very tragic accident. He was one of the bravest soldiers, who has served the motherland with utmost devotion,” Home Minister Amit Shah tweeted.
“Deeply shocked at tragic demise of CDS General Bipin Rawat and his wife. We worked closely together in the last few years. It is a huge loss to the nation,” said External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar.
Born on 16 March 1958, Gen Rawat was commissioned into the Army’s Gorkha Rifles in 1978. He rose to become the 26th Chief of Army Staff from 31 December 2016, before becoming the inaugural holder of the CDS’ office from 1 January 2020.
The officer has vast experience in operations across a wide spectrum of conflict and terrain profiles. He commanded an Infantry battalion, along the Line of Actual Control in the Eastern Sector; a Rashtriya Rifles Sector; an Infantry Division in the Kashmir Valley; and, a Corps in the North East.