In a shocking accident, India’s Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other armed forces personnel, died in a helicopter crash on Wednesday in Tamil Nadu.
“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. His untimely death is an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country,” Defence Minister Rajnath Singh broke the news in a tweet on Wednesday evening.
The Indian Air Force said that Gen Rawat was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington to address the faculty and student officers of the staff course. In the afternoon, the IAF said that its Mi-17V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Rawat on board, had met with an accident near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident, it said. A witness to the incident was quoted in media reports as saying that he saw the chopper crash into trees and burst into flames.
The crash of IAF chopper Mi17 V5 came as a shock to aviation and military experts as the helicopter is reputed to be a trusted, safe, reliable machine and used to ferry VVIPS, including the President and the Prime Minister.
President Ram Nath Kovind who is the supreme commander of the armed forces expressed his shock and anguish over the untimely demise of General Rawat and his wife Madhulika. “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….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,” the President said in a tweet.
The CDS and his wife Madhulika Rawat, along with 12 other personnel on board, were travelling from Sulur air base to Wellington’s Defence Staff College.
Gen Rawat, a former chief of the Indian Army, was elevated to the newly created post of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in January 2019. As India’s top military general, the CDS is the single point adviser to the government on military affairs.
The news of the crash came as a shock in the echelons of the government and across political spectrum with everyone fearing the worst but hoping for the best for the CDS and the personnel.
The helicopters of Mi-17 V5 series are made in Russia and India had ordered a good number of them and got their supplies between 2013 and 2018. It is capable of operating in difficult weather conditions and is equipped with state-of-the-art avionics and armaments. There have rarely been any instances of Mi 17 V5 accidents apart from the one in Srinagar in February 2019 which was shot down by accident, a day after Balakot aerial strikes carried out by the IAF.