CDS Gen Bipin Rawat passes away in helicopter crash

CDS Bipin Rawat, wife, 11 others killed in helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu

Sources in the know told Deccan Herald that the helicopter crashed just about 10 minutes before it was to land

Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat. Credit: PTI file Photo

India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, and 11 army officers and personnel were charred to death when an Indian Air Force’s Mi-17V5 helicopter carrying them crashed near Coonoor in the Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu. 

There was only one survivor in the crash – Group Captain Varun Singh – who is being treated at the Military Hospital in Wellington, 16 km from Udhagamandalam or Ooty. The lone survivor’s condition is also critical and he is understood to have suffered over 60 per cent burn injuries. 

The tragic crash took place at around 12.15 pm when Gen Rawat and 13 others were on their way to the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington where the Chief of Defence Staff was to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course. 

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Brigadier L S Lidder, Lt. Col. Harjinder Singh, Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan, Squadron Leader Kuldeep, JWO Pradeep, JWO Das, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitendra Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar, Lance Naik B Sai Teja, and Havildar Satpal also lost their lives in the crash.

Gen Rawat, who assumed office as the country’s first CDS on January 1, 2020, flew into the IAF Airbase in Sulur on the outskirts of Coimbatore on Wednesday morning. He was accompanied by his wife and eight officers and personnel. Five officers and personnel joined him on his around 40-minute flight from Sulur to Wellington.

“Around noon today, an IAF Mi 17 V5 helicopter with a crew of 4 members carrying the CDS and 9 other passengers met with a tragic accident near Coonoor, TN. 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 IAF announced in a tweet a little after 6 pm. 

Sources in the know told Deccan Herald that the helicopter crashed just about 10 minutes before it was to land at the Gymkhana Club helipad inside the Army Centre in Wellington. Though the IAF did not give any reason for the crash, people living in the area where the accident took place said the weather was misty at noon, when the chopper came down. 

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Eye-witnesses who alerted the Nilgiris district police and fire rescue personnel about the crash said the chopper flew dangerously low, quite close to the residential areas before it fell to the ground. The advanced helicopter hit a tree at the reserve forest in Nanjappanchathiram before it caught fire and went in flames, eye-witnesses said. 

If the crash had taken place a few hundred metres away, there could have been heavy civilian causalities, the sources added. The operation to pull the bodies out of the charred chopper was difficult, sources said, adding that most of them were charred beyond recognition. “A few bodies are yet to be identified,” a source added. 

Army personnel joined the local police and fire service personnel who took several hours to pull the bodies out of the mangled remains of the chopper. Police personnel who were posted on the Mettupalayam-Ooty ghat road as there was a chance of Gen Rawat taking the road to Wellington joined the rescue operations immediately. 

Chief Minister M K Stalin, accompanied by Chief Secretary V Irai Anbu, and Director General of Police Sylendra Babu, rushed to Coimbatore by a special aircraft and drove to the Army Centre in Wellington, where they were briefed by officers from the Army. 

A formal wreath-laying ceremony is likely to be held on Thursday morning at the Army Centre in which Governor R N Ravi is expected to join Stalin and his ministers. The mortal remains of Gen Rawat and his wife Madhulika are likely to be flown out of the Sulur airbase by Thursday evening. The last rites will take place on Friday.

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