General Bipin Rawat, India’s first chief of defence staff, died on Wednesday after an Indian Air Force helicopter carrying him crashed in Tamil Nadu. Thirteen of the 14 people on board, including Rawat’s wife also died in the accident.
The only survivor, an Air Force group captain, is being treated for injuries.
The helicopter, which took off from Sulur air base in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday afternoon, was on its way to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington, nearly three kilometres north of Coonoor, where the helicopter crashed.
The Air Force said that an inquiry on the accident was underway. Videos from the crash site showed the helicopter in flames in a densely forested area as rescuers tried to save people.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is expected to brief Parliament about the crash on Thursday.
Here are the day’s updates:
7.55 pm: The Indian Army issues a statement about Rawat’s death. “The dynamic and inspiring leadership of General Bipin Rawat shall remain eternally etched in our memories,” says a tweet on the official Twitter account of the forces. “The Indian Armed Forces will forever remain indebted to his invaluable contributions.”
7.53 pm: Prime Minister Narendra Modi has chaired the Cabinet Committee on Security, reports ANI.
7.50 pm: Bhutan Prime Minister Lotay Tshering writes on Twitter: “Heartaching to learn of helicopter crash in India, claiming 13 precious lives, including the Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat and wife. People of Bhutan and I offer prayers for India and the bereaved families. May you find strength to see through the tragedy.”
7.48 pm: Vice President Venkaiah Naidu expresses deep shock over the deaths in the air crash.
“Known for his remarkable leadership and strategic vision, General Rawat added great strength to our defence capabilities and made a stellar contribution to strengthening our national security,” he writes in a tweet. “His outstanding service to our nation will always be remembered.”
6.50 pm: Condolences pouring in from the president and other leaders too:
6.48 pm: Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi condoles the death of Bipin Rawat and his wife. He says this is an unprecedented tragedy.
6.30 pm: Prime Minister Narendra Modi remembers Bipin Rawat as “an outstanding solider”. The general, who has four decades of service behind him, died in a helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu today.
The prime minister in a tweet says, “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.”
6.20 pm: Union Home Minister Amit Shah also mourns the death of Indian defence chief Bipin Rawat.
“He was one of the bravest soldiers, who has served the motherland with utmost devotion,” he says in a tweet. “His exemplary contributions and commitment cannot be put into words. I am deeply pained.”
6.12 pm: The defence minister in another tweet says that Rawat had served the country with “exceptional courage and diligence”.
6.10 pm: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh says he is deeply anguished by the deaths of Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others in the helicopter crash.
“His untimely death is an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country,” Singh says in a tweet.
6.08 pm: Group Captain Varun Singh is being treated at Military Hospital in Wellington, says the Indian Air Force.
6.06 pm: Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others have died in the helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu, says Air Force.
5.45 pm: Nilgiris collector SP Amrith tells PTI that 13 of the 14 people on board the helicopter have died. “There is one male survivor,” he adds.
There is still no official statement on General Bipin Rawat’s condition.
5.36 pm: Army chief MM Naravane also visits Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat home in Delhi.
5.30 pm: Bipin Rawat is India’s first chief of defence staff, a position that the Indian government established in 2019. The post was set up with the aim of integrating the three services – the Army, the Air Force and the Navy.
5.25 pm: The Indian Army takes control of the crash site, reports The Hindu.
5.20 pm: The Cabinet Committee on Security will meet today at 6.30 pm after the Air Force’s Mi-17V5 helicopter crashed in Tamil Nadu.
5.15 pm: Political leaders pray for the well-being of Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat as an Indian Air Force helicopter with him on board crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu.
4.50 pm: Air Force Chief VR Chaudhari has left for Sulur Airbase, reports ANI.
4.15 pm: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is likely to issue a statement in Parliament tomorrow about the helicopter crash, according to NDTV. Earlier, Singh had briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
3.50 pm: Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has arrived at the home of Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat in Delhi, reports ANI.
3.45 pm: Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai, citing preliminary information, says that Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat has been taken to hospital for treatment, reports ANI.
3.40 pm: Local witnesses recall hearing a loud crash and watching the helicopter fall from the sky and burst into flames, reports The News Minute.
“I saw the helicopter coming down,” a witness identified as Krishnswamy says. “There were terrible loud sounds. It hit one tree and was on fire then itself.”
3.30 pm: Tamil Nadu Forest Minister K Ramachandran tells reporters that five people have died and the condition of two persons is critical, according to ANI.
3.53 pm: The Tamil Nadu government has also sent senior officials, including the Nilgiri District Collector, to the accident site, reports NDTV. A medical team from Udhagamandalam and experts from Coimbatore are at the spot.
The helicopter crashed shortly after take off from Sulur air base in nearby Coimbatore and when it was on its way to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington town, nearly three kilometres north of Coonoor.
3.50 pm: Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin says he is shocked by the Air Force’s Mi-17V5 helicopter crash. “I’ve instructed the local administration to provide all the help needed in rescue operations even as I’m rushing to the spot,” he says in a tweet.
2.35 pm: Visuals from the crash site in Katteri-Nanchappanchathram area in the hilly Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu.
2.30 pm: Rawat’s wife, his defence assistant, security commandos and Indian Air Force personnel were among the 14 people on board, reports NDTV.
2.10 pm: The Indian Air Force says its Mi-17V5 helicopter carrying Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat has crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. It adds that an investigation has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident.