India’s top General, wife, 11 others killed in chopper crash

Chief of Defence Staff of India Gen Bipin Rawat
Chief of Defence Staff of India Gen Bipin Rawat

Agencies :
India’s top military commander has died in a helicopter crash in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, quoting the Indian Air Force BBC reported on Wednesday evening.
Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others were killed after the Mi-17V5 helicopter came down in hills near Coonoor city.
One survivor is being treated for his injuries in hospital. Gen Rawat, 63, was appointed India’s first-ever Chief of Defence Staff in January 2019.
The Indian Air Force said it had ordered an investigation into the accident. A cabinet security committee is to hold an emergency session, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
On Twitter, Mr Modi said: “[Gen Rawat] brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service.” Images from the crash site showed thick plumes of smoke billowing from the mangled remains of the helicopter, and local people trying to put out the fire.
 The helicopter had just taken off from the army base in Sulur, and was headed for Wellington town, less than 100km (62 miles) away, where Gen Rawat was set to visit the Defence Services Staff College.
The sole survivor of the crash is a captain working at the college.
Although the Mi-17V5 is among the most sophisticated military transport helicopters, India’s ageing air force fleet is often blamed for a high number of crashes.
In 2017, seven military personnel were killed in a crash in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The helicopter was on a training sortie.
A year before that, another of the helicopters had crashed immediately after take-off during a military drill in the northern state of Uttarakhand. No casualties were reported then.
“An IAF Mi-17V5 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.
Meanwhile, Air Force’s Mi-17V-5 helicopter carrying Indian defence chief General Bipin Rawat and others has left experts baffled.
It is a “very reliable, safe, stable, and large” helicopter that is a workhorse of the Indian Air Force, and is used to ferry VIPs, including the president and the prime minister, experts said to private broadcaster NDTV.
The chopper’s flight from Sulur to Wellington with Chief of Defence Staff Bipin, his wife, and several of his staff members on board, did not involve complications, experts said to NDTV.
Fourteen people – five crew and nine passengers – were on board the Air Force’s Mi-17V5 helicopter when it crashed at 12:20 pm local time in the Nilgiri Hills in Tamil Nadu.
The Air Force has confirmed General Rawat was on board. There is no confirmation on his condition at this time.
Five people have died. Two are in hospital with 90 percent burn injuries. A search is on for the other seven. The injured are being treated at the military hospital at the Wellington base.
The identities of those killed are being withheld for the moment.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and will brief parliament shortly.
A meeting of senior defence officials is taking place in Delhi. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin will leave for the crash site at 5:00 pm local time.
The chopper crashed shortly after it took off from an Air Force base in Sulur near Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore. It was heading to Wellington in Udhagamandalam, also known as Ooty, where a Defence Services Staff College is located.
The defence establishment learnt of the incident from villagers in nearby Katteri, who informed the district administration. Eight ambulances and medical teams from Coimbatore and Wellington are at the scene.
The Tamil Nadu government has sent senior officials, including the Nilgiri District collector, to the crash site. A medical team from Udhagamandalam and experts from Coimbatore are at the scene. The Indian forest minister is also on his way. Locals are helping in the rescue operation.
The crash site is in a forested area, which makes access to the wreckage difficult. Visuals showed pieces of the chopper, some of which was still on fire, scattered on the hillside, and rescuers at work, struggling through thick smoke and fire.
Former Army chief General JJ Singh said that the bodies that were recovered are charred, which is making identification difficult. Those rescued have sustained severe burn injuries.
The Air Force, while tweeting confirmation that General Rawat was on board, has also said an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident.
The Mi-17V-5 is the latest twin-engine iteration of the Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopter and is used regularly for high-altitude operations, according to NDTV.
It is of the most advanced military transports that can be used in any topography and weather and it is one of the most powerful choppers used by Indian defence forces.
India owns a fairly large fleet of these helicopters that were purchased and inducted between 2013 and 2018, NDTV reports.