India armed forces head among 13 dead in helicopter crash

NEW DELHI, Dec 8 (Reuters) – The chief of India’s armed forces, General Bipin Rawat, was among the 13 people killed Wednesday when the military helicopter they were traveling in crashed, the air force said.

They were heading from an air force base to a military university on a hillside in the southern state of Tamil Nadu when the Russian-made Mi-17V5 helicopter fell near the town of Coonoor.

Local television footage showed rescuers and army personnel carrying bodies up the steep slopes of the mangled wreckage. Only one of the 14 people on board survived and was hospitalized with injuries.

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“It is with deep regret that General Bipin Rawat, (his wife) Mrs. Madhulika Rawat and 11 other people on board have now been found to have died,” the Air Force said in a statement.

Rawat, 63, was appointed as India’s first Chief of Defense Staff by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the end of 2019. The position was created with the aim of integrating India’s three military services : the Army, Navy and Air Force.

Several of the bodies were badly burned, two government sources said. “Some bodies were so charred that they could not be identified immediately,” said one of the sources.

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Modi said he was deeply saddened by Rawat’s death. “A true patriot, he contributed greatly to modernizing our armed forces and our security apparatus,” the prime minister said.

In a tweet, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh called Rawat’s death “an irreparable loss to our armed forces and the country.”

The Indian Air Force ordered an investigation into the cause of the accident.

India has dozens of Mi-17s in service. They are widely deployed to transport senior military personnel and government ministers.

“This is a safe and proven helicopter, I have ridden it in difficult situations,” said former army chief JJSingh.

An infantryman with more than four decades of military service, Rawat served along India’s border with China, the disputed Kashmir region and on a United Nations mission in Africa, before taking over the Indian Army to end of 2016.

In New Delhi, Defense Minister Singh visited Rawat’s official residence and the state broadcaster said Modi had called a meeting of the cabinet committee on security on Wednesday night.

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Report by Devjyot Ghoshal and Sanjeev Miglani; Additional reporting from Sudarshan Varadhan and Rupam Jain; Edited by Euan Rocha and Tom Hogue and John Stonestreet

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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