Helicopter Lost In Crash

A military helicopter crashed in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, killing twelve. Among the dead was India’s Defense Chief of Staff General Bipin Rawat.

Initially, Indian Air Force officials were unable to confirm if General Rawat was lost. “We don’t know yet,” a military source told Reuters, as he was asked about the situation with General Rawat, as troops and first responders rushed to the crash site near the town of Coonoor. 

 Tamil Nadu forests minister K. Ramachandran said from the scene of the crash that at least seven bodies were recovered from the crash scene almost immediately, according to the Times of India.

The Mi-17V5. Image; Russian Helicopters, JSC

“An IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu,” the Indian Air Force said in a post on Twitter.

The Indian military has dozens of Russian-made helicopters and they are frequently used to shuttle senior military officers, government officials when visiting far-flung locations, as well as for shuttling troops. 

Indian first Chief of Defense Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat at an earlier ceremony. Rawat was one of 14 people onboard a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter that crashed on Wednesday. Reuters photo

He was traveling with his wife and 13 other officers and staff from an Indian Air Force base in Sulur to the Defense Services Staff College in Wellington in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to deliver a lecture. The town of Coonoor is along the flight path taken by the helicopter.

General Rewat Was Appointed Chief Of Staff In 2019

Rawat, 63, was appointed as India’s first Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration in late 2019. The position was set up with the aim of integrating India’s three armed services – the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. It is a similar position to that of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs in the U.S. military.

General Rawat had been engaged in overhauling and streamlining an Indian military badly in need of modernization. Recent clashes with Pakistan and China highlight the dual-threat along its borders as the state of the country’s military equipment and troop training has been an issue of growing concern for the government in New Delhi.

Videos broadcast on Asian News International and local Indian news channels showed a fiery wreck at the crash site as local residents tried to douse the flames and search for survivors in a densely forested area near the college in the Nilgiris district.

General Rawat comes from a respected military family with several generations having served in the Indian armed forces. During his long four-decade career, he has served in leadership positions and commanded troops including India’s own Ghurka Regiments.  Rawat saw duty in the country’s restive northeast region, in Indian-administered Kashmir, and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China. General Rawat had also served in various United Nations peacekeeping missions abroad.

He is credited with quelling an insurgency on India’s northeastern frontier and supervised a cross-border counter-insurgency operation into neighboring Myanmar.

The Indian Air Force said an inquiry was underway into the cause of the accident.

Photo of General Rawat: AP