Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife, Madhulika, and 11 other army personnel died on Wednesday after an Indian Air Force helicopter carrying them crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu in apparently foggy conditions.
The fate of Gen Rawat was not immediately known. Union Defence Minister confirmed his demise on Wednesday evening. “Deeply anguished by sudden demise of CDS Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other armed forces personnel in helicopter accident,” Singh said.
“CDS Gen Bipin Rawat's untimely death is an irreparable loss to our armed forces and country,” Singh added.
According to reports, 13 people on board were killed in the crash, with just one survivor. Group Captain Varun Singh with injuries is currently under treatment at Military Hospital, Wellington, the IAF said.
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.
"Gen Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (Nilgiri Hills) to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course today," the IAF said in a statement.
Tamil Nadu Chief Miniter MK Stalin expressed shock over the incident.
Singh, who is monitoring the situation, briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi about the crash and the IAF chief was asked to reach the site.
Singh also visited the residence of Rawat and spoke to his daughter.
According to accounts of official sources and a local eyewitnesses interviewed by PTI, the helicopter was flying at a low altitude in the foggy conditions when it crashed into a valley here, before falling through trees. Fire engulfed the helicopter by the time it landed 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 told PTI.
The helicopter carrying Rawat and others had left Sulur IAF station in Coimbatore around 10.30 am on Wednesday and was supposed to land at Defence Staff College in Wellington at Udhagamandalam about an hour later.
Later, it 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.
(With PTI inputs)