An Indian Air Force helicopter crashed in Conoor, Tamil Nadu. There was a post-crash fire. Chief of Defense Staff, Gen. Bipin Rawat was reportedly on board.
According to the latest report, Thirteen out of 14 personnel on board the IAF chopper have been confirmed dead. Identities of the bodies will be confirmed through DNA testing, said sources.
General Rawat’s wife, his Defence Assistant, security commandos, and Air Force personnel were among 14 people on board.
“An IAF Mi-17 V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. An Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident,” tweeted the Air Force.
General Rawat had taken a flight from Delhi to Sulur earlier today and that flight manifest had listed nine people. The flight from Sulur included five more, possibly crew.
The crash took place in the Nilgiris shortly after the Russian-made Mi-17 V5 chopper took off from the Air Force base in Sulur in Coimbatore for the Defence Staff Services College in Wellington.
The crash was first reported around 12.20 pm. The defense establishment learned of the incident from villagers who had informed the district administration.
Visuals showed wreckage scattered on a steep hillside and rescuers at work, struggling through thick smoke and fire. Charred bodies were pulled out by locals and cops from under mangled metal and fallen trees.
General Rawat, 63, took charge as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff in January 2019. The position was set up with the aim of integrating the three services — the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The “CDS” is seen to be the pivot of long-delayed modernization of the defence forces.
He has also appointed the head of the newly-created Department of Military Affairs.
The Indian Air Force says an inquiry into the accident is under way.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was expected to make a statement on the incident in Parliament later on Wednesday.