Prez Kovind, PM Modi, HM Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath express grief
Coonoor: Highly-decorated India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other military personnel were on Wednesday killed in a helicopter crash here in Tamil Nadu, sending a wave of sorrow across the country.
The pilot of the ill-fated Mi-17V5 helicopter of the Indian Air Force (IAF) was the lone survivor in the crash that took place in Coonoor valley at around noon when Gen Rawat was on his way to Wellington to deliver a lecture.
According to reports and eyewitness accounts, the helicopter crashed after hitting some trees and burst into flames.
The chopper took off at 11:47 am from Sulur and was heading to Wellington when it crashed at 12:20 am, about 5-10 km and five minutes from the landing site.
The Russia-made two-engine helicopter, considered very stable and safe, split into pieces and the wreckage was scattered on a hillside.
Some of the bodies were charred beyond recognition, officials said, adding that DNA tests would be done to identify them.
Even before the police, fire service, district and revenue officials could reach the accident spot, locals jumped into the rescue act and made all attempts to douse the blaze, which raged for more than an hour as the fuel tank was full.
Local Army units also joined the rescue operation, but 63-year-old Gen Rawat, his wife and 11 others could not be saved.
There was suspense over the fate of the onboard travellers, including Gen Rawat, for nearly six hours before the IAF confirmed the tragic news.
“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,” the IAF tweeted at around 6 pm.
“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,” it added.
Gp Capt Varun Singh SC, the pilot of the Russian made chopper and Directing Staff at DSSC, has been hospitalised with 80 per cent burn injuries, and is currently under treatment at Military Hospital, Wellington, the IAF said in another tweet.
Gen Rawat was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (Nilgiri Hills) to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course today, an IAF spokesperson said.
The inquiry would be conducted into the mishap, in which the country lost the cream of military, including a Brigadier, a Lt Colonel and commandos responsible for security of the CDS.
Gen Rawat, who took over as the country’s first CDS on January 1, 2020 after the end of his tenure as Army Chief, was a highly-decorated officer, in whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi reposed special faith.
He was a key architect of major military operations carried out by India in the recent times, including the surgical strike at terror camps in September 2016 across the Line of Control (LoC) in Pakistan-administered Jammu and Kashmir as well as the cross-border air strike at terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakote in February 2019.
The surgical strike and the air strike were in response to major attacks planned in Pakistan and carried out in Jammu and Kashmir.
A series of meetings were held through the day as the reports of the chopper crash sent the defence establishment into a tizzy.
Earlier in the day, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh briefed the Prime Minister. Singh was briefed on the crash by Army chief MM Naravane at the South Block.
The Cabinet Committee on Security met in New Delhi in the evening and condoled the deaths.
As soon as the tragic news was confirmed, condolences poured in from all quarters.
President Ram Nath Kovind, the Supreme Commander of Armed forces, termed it as “painful”.
“It’s deeply painful for me to learn of the loss of lives in the chopper crash. I join the fellow citizens in paying tributes to each of those who died while performing their duty. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families.
“I am shocked and anguished over the untimely demise of Gen. Bipin Rawat and his wife, Madhulika ji. The nation has lost one of its bravest sons. His four decades of selfless service to the motherland was marked by exceptional gallantry and heroism. My condolences to his family” he tweeted.
PM Narendra Modi called Gen Rawat a “true patriot” and said, “I am deeply anguished by the helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu in which we have lost Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and other personnel of the Armed Forces. They served India with utmost diligence. My thoughts are with the bereaved families”. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, while condoling the demise, said it was an “irreparable loss” to the armed forces and the country.
“Deeply anguished by the sudden demise of Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other Armed Forces personnel in an extremely unfortunate helicopter accident today in Tamil Nadu,” Singh tweeted.
“His untimely death is an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country,” he added.
Home Minister Amit Shah called it a “very sad day for the nation”.
“He was one of the bravest soldiers, who has served the motherland with utmost devotion. His exemplary contributions & commitment cannot be put into words. I am deeply pained,” Shah tweeted.
“I also express my deepest condolences on the sad demise of Mrs Madhulika Rawat and 11 other Armed Forces personnel. My thoughts are with the bereaved families. May God give them the strength to bear this tragic loss. Praying for the speedy recovery of Gp Capt Varun Singh,” Shah added.
“Deeply shocked at tragic demise of CDS General Bipin Rawat and his wife. We worked closely together in the last few years. It is a huge loss to the nation,” Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar tweeted.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, accompanied by senior ministers, Chief Secretary V Irai Anbu and TN DGP C Sylendra Babu left for Coimbatore by air.
Stalin was expected to land in Coimbatore and will reach Coonoor by road to inspect the crash site.
Singh also chaired a meeting of key defence officials before visiting the New Delhi residence of Gen Rawat.
The site of the crash is five km from Coonoor bus stand–a down slide leading to the valley on the left of the bus stand. It is a thick forested area and accessibility is very difficult, said eyewitnesses, adding that one of the blades hit a tree following which the chopper crashed and exploded.
One of the eyewitnesses, a resident of Katteri, said he came rushing out after hearing a loud sound. “I ran out and saw the chopper plunging steeply into the valley below, before it hit a tree and crashed,” he said.
“As the fire was huge, we couldn’t approach (the site),” he said.
Stalin tweeted: “I am deeply shocked and disheartened on hearing the army chopper with CDS General Bipin Rawat and 13 others has met with an accident near Coonoor. I’ve instructed the local administration to provide all the help needed in rescue operations even as I’m rushing to the spot.”
He also directed the district administration to provide the best of treatment to the injured and speed up rescue and relief works at the accident spot.
A 15-member special team from Indian Army was rushed to Coonoor earlier in the day to speed up the relief and rescue works earlier.
District officials throughout the rescue operation refused to divulge the condition of the rescued to stem any kind of misinformation.
The CDS’ wife and President of Army Wives Welfare Association Madhulika Rawat, along with Defence Assistant, security commandos and Indian Air Force personnel, were onboard the chopper. (UNI)
Bodies to reach Delhi for last rites today
United News of India
Chennai, Dec 08: The bodies of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others, who were killed in an IAF helicopter crash at Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, will be flown to New Delhi tomorrow for last rites.
The tragedy occurred around noon and the IAF officially confirmed that Gen Rawat his wife and 11 others had died in the crash.
Official sources said the bodies, which were kept in the Military Hospital at Wellington, will be taken to Sulur Air base from where it would be flown to Delhi. (UNI)