General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, Brigadier L S Lidder, Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh, Wing Commander PS Chauhan, Squadron Leader K Singh, JWO Das, JWO Pradeep A, Havildar Satpal, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitender Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar and Lance Naik Sai Teja were killed when the chopper crashed on its way to Wellington from the Sulur Air Force Base in Coimbatore.
The black box of the chopper has been recovered. The helicopter crashed shortly after it took off from the Air Force base in Sulur at 11.45 am, Coimbatore. It was on its way to Wellington in Nilgiri Hills where General Rawat was to address a gathering at the Defence Services Staff College. Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhary, Air Force Chief visited the crash site this morning.
The Mi-17 V5 helicopter was making its descent and would have landed in 10 more minutes when it came down, barely 10 km from a road. The Air Force has now ordered an Inquiry into what happened. The only survivor of the mishap is Air Force Group Captain Varun Singh, who is being treated for severe burns. Group Captain Singh had gone to Sulur from Wellington to receive General Rawat.
Videos from the crash site showed wreckage scattered on a hillside and rescuers struggling through smoke and fire to locate bodies. Charred bodies were pulled out from under mangled metal and fallen trees. Shortly after the incident, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, briefed by the Defence Minister, called a meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Security at his residence.
Tributes have poured in for the General from across the country and abroad. The Prime Minister described him as an “outstanding soldier” and a “true patriot”. The Defense Minister called it an “irreparable loss” to the country and the forces.
The funeral of General Rawat and his wife will take place tomorrow. Their bodies are expected to reach Delhi by a military plane today evening.
General Rawat, 63, took charge as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff in January 2020. The position was created to integrate Army, Navy and the Air Force. A former Army Chief, he was also appointed the head of the newly-created Department of Military Affairs.
The general joined the army as a second lieutenant in 1978 and had four decades of service behind him, having commanded forces in Jammu and Kashmir and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China.