Sole survivor Group Captain Varun Singh undergoing treatment ** IAF orders probe into mishap
Coonoor (TN), Dec 8 (PTI): India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others were killed in a helicopter crash near here on Wednesday.
The copter carrying Gen Rawat, appointed as CDS in 2019, and his entourage crashed in apparently foggy conditions, killing the 13 people on board, the IAF and other officials said. One person survived the crash and is being treated at a hospital.
The mortal remains of the victims will be taken to New Delhi from Coimbatore on Thursday by air, after a wreath-laying ceremony scheduled on Thursday morning at Wellington, police and Defence sources said.
“With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident,” the IAF said in a tweet.
Rawat was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington to address the faculty and student officers of the staff course when the fatal accident happened.
Group Captain Varun Singh SC, Directing Staff at DSSC and the sole survivor, was undergoing treatment for injuries at the Military Hospital, Wellington, IAF added.
Earlier, the Nilgiris collector SP Amrith confirmed to PTI that 13 persons were killed in the crash while there was one survivor.
The IAF said a Court of Inquiry has been ordered into the accident, involving a Mi-17VH helicopter which took off from the Sulur IAF Station in nearby Coimbatore. While the helicopter took off around 10.30 am on Wednesday, the Coonoor Fire Station received a call at 12 noon, following the accident, official sources said.
Tamil Nadu chief minister M K Stalin, who left for Coonoor, expressed shock over the accident.
Defence minister Rajnath Singh briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi about the crash and the IAF chief has been asked to reach the site.
Singh also visited the residence of Rawat in the national capital and spoke to his daughter.
The Prime Minister-led Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) was briefed about the crash and top Cabinet brass expressed condolences on the death of General Rawat.
Besides Prime Minister Modi, the meeting was attended by Rajnath Singh, Home minister Amit Shah, Finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman and External Affairs minister S Jaishankar, official sources said.
National Security advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, principal secretary to the Prime Minister PK Misra and Cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba also attended the meeting, in which the CCS members were briefed about the tragic incident.
According to accounts of official sources and local eyewitnesses here, the helicopter was flying at a low altitude in the foggy conditions when it crashed into a valley near Coonoor, before falling through trees. Fire engulfed the helicopter by the time it crashed on the ground.
Although it brushed a house during its fall, there was no human casualty or injury since the residents were not at home. The building suffered damage in the episode. Two persons, who were ablaze, fell down from the helicopter, Perumal, an eyewitness said.
The helicopter carrying Rawat and others had left Sulur IAF station around 10.30 am on Wednesday and was supposed to land at DSSC in Wellington at Udhagamandalam about an hour later. However, the Coonoor fire station received a call about the mishap around noon.
The helicopter crashed in the Katteri-Nanchappanchathram area near here in the hilly Nilgiris district.
The copter crashed in the forest area, reducing trees to pieces of logs and ashes due to resultant fire, even as the local people turned first responders to try and save the injured. However, they could not help the victims due to the raging flames and informed authorities. Apparently, a major tragedy was averted as the helicopter fell at some distance away from the human habitation, averting possible mass casualties.
The accident site was a scene of despair with flames from the helicopter engulfing the wooden logs resulting in billowing smoke and personnel scurrying to douse the fire, including using buckets and water hose. What seemed to be some charred bodies were also seen lying around. Rescue personnel apparently picked up charred, severed limbs strewn around.
The mangled and burnt remains of the IAF copter were strewn along the accident site which remained out of bounds for civilians.
Meanwhile, police and defence sources said a wreath-laying ceremony is slated at The Madras Regimental Centre (MRC), Wellington on Thursday, where Stalin and other top officials, including IAF chief VR Chaudhari, are expected to participate. Post the event, the mortal remains will be taken to Coimbatore and later flown to New Delhi from there, the sources added.