Bipin Rawat: India’s most senior general killed in helicopter crash, military confirms

Indian air force says the joint military chief of defence staff Bipin Rawat and his wife are among 13 dead in incident

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Wednesday 08 December 2021 16:03
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Helicopter carrying India’s most senior general crashes in Tamil Nadu

India’s most senior military official has been killed in a helicopter crash in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the air force confirmed.

General Bipin Rawat and his wife, Madhulika Rawat, were among 14 people travelling in the chopper when it came down shortly after leaving the army base in Sulur.

On Wednesday evening, the air force confirmed in a statement that Gen Rawat and his wife both died, and that there was only a single survivor from the crash.

The news has sent shockwaves through India, with the 63-year-old general a well-known figure after he was named India’s first chief of defence staff (CDS) in 2019, a role designed to provide oversight of the army, navy and air force combined.

“With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident,” the air force said in its statement. Earlier, it said that the crash involved an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, and that “an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident”.

The first news of the crash had been accompanied by TV images of the helicopter’s badly damaged wreckage engulfed in flames, as local residents tried to douse it, while one eye witness told Indian media he had seen the chopper catch fire while descending and later the charred bodies of some passengers.

As the severity of the crash became clear, the prime minister Narendra Modi called an emergency meeting of his security advisers and the president of India, Ram Nath Kovind, cleared his official schedule.

Other senior military figures were also listed as being on board the helicopter at the time of the crash, according to a passenger manifesto shared widely by Indian media. They included Gen Rawat’s defence assistant Brigadier LS Lidder and his staff officer Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh.

People gather outside General Bipin Rawat’s residence in New Delhi

Defence minister Rajnath Singh was seen visiting the Delhi residence belonging to Gen Rawat on Wednesday afternoon. He is likely to make a statement regarding the crash in parliament on Thursday, according to the state broadcaster.

Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin has instructed the local administration to provide the best medical care possible to the injured, at least some of whom are understood to have died in hospital, and was scheduled to visit the district where the crash happened on Wednesday evening.

The Indian army’s Mi-17V5 helicopters, like the model involved in the crash, are used in high-altitude operations and for transporting officials, including the prime minister.

A Russia-made military transport version of Mi-8 choppers, they are also capable of dropping tactical air assault forces.

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