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Updated on: Wednesday, December 08, 2021, 11:35 PM IST

CDS Bipin Rawat, wife Madhulika, 11 others killed in helicopter crash near Tamil Nadu's Coonoor: All you need to know

Varanasi: People pay homage to those killed in an IAF chopper crash, in Varanasi, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. CDS Gen Bipin Rawat accompanied by his wife Madhulika Rawat, his staff and other officials were killed in an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter crash in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu.  | (PTI Photo)

Varanasi: People pay homage to those killed in an IAF chopper crash, in Varanasi, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021. CDS Gen Bipin Rawat accompanied by his wife Madhulika Rawat, his staff and other officials were killed in an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter crash in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. | (PTI Photo)

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Chennai: Indian Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 others perished in an Indian Air Force Mi-17 V5 helicopter crash near Coonoor in the Nilgiris in western Tamil Nadu on Wednesday afternoon.

Only one IAF officer survived and is undergoing medical treatment.

The chopper was just 10 km away from its destination – the Wellington Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), where General Rawat was to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Court, when it crashed and turned into a fireball around 12.25 pm.

Nearly six hours after the tragic accident, the Indian Air Force Media Coordination Centre confirmed that the top officer was no more.

“With deep regret, it has been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident,” the IAF MCC tweeted at 6.03 pm.

Group Captain Varun Singh, Directing Staff at DSSC, who sustained injuries, is admitted at the Military Hospital in Wellington.

Eyewitnesses said they came out of their homes in Kattery near Coonoor on hearing loud sounds of helicopter blades whirring and saw the chopper crash into a tree before it was engulfed in flames.

Civilians were unable to jump into rescue operations immediately due to the blaze. “We were able to hear them scream but were unable to respond immediately,” said Krishanasamy, an eyewitness.

Defence personnel along with uniformed men from the Tamil Nadu police and fire and rescue services departments arrived to undertake rescue operations with locals joining the efforts to douse the flames. While four passengers were initially rescued from the accident, three of them succumbed at the hospital. The bodies of the rest were retrieved in a charred condition from the spot.

The Army personnel who died included Brigadier L S Lidder, Lt Colonel Harjinder Singh (Security Officer to CDS), Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitendra Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar, Lance Naik B Sai Teja and Havildar Satpal (all personal security officers to the CDS). The crew members who died were pilot Wing Commander Chauhan, Squadron Leader Kuldeep and Junior Wing Officers Pradeep and Das.

Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin expressed deep shock and rushed to the Nilgiris in the evening. Before the news of the death of the defence officers came in, the State had rushed medical teams from nearby Coimbatore and put hospitals in the district on standby, just in case the injured had to be flown in for advanced treatment.

Director General of Police Sylendra Babu too rushed to Nilgiris.

According to Defence sources, General Rawat, his wife and his personal security officers had arrived at the IAF Sulur air base in an Embraer aircraft at around 11.35 am. After a brief halt, they boarded the ill-fated helicopter and headed to Wellington before the chopper crashed.

Tamil Nadu Government officials said the logistics relating to the shifting of the mortal remains of the top officers would be decided by the Army.

The IAF has ordered an inquiry headed by an Air Marshal to ascertain the cause of the accident.

As Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Rawat was overseeing the implementation of an ambitious tri-services modernisation plan to bring synergy among the armed forces and enhance their overall combat capabilities. He was appointed as India's first Chief of Defence Staff on December 31, 2019.

The crash has baffled experts and the black box will possibly offer a clue to the mishap.

"Comprehensive checks of the helicopter would have been done. There would have been a standby helicopter as well. The weather condition would have been checked. In this case, if the weather at Wellington was marginal, they may have decided to make an attempt and then called it off," said a former official of the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The official said nonetheless a technical snag or weather could have been a factor.

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Published on: Wednesday, December 08, 2021, 11:35 PM IST
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