India’s top military chief killed in air force helicopter crash

Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat died along with his wife, Madhulika Rawat, the IAF said via Twitter. He had been in the post for almost two years.

The helicopter, which had a crew of four, crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu state while en route from Sulur to the town of Wellington in Tamil Nadu, the IAF said.

The survivor, Group Capt. Varun Singh, is being treated for his injuries at the Military Hospital in Wellington, the IAF said.

The cause of the crash and details of the other passengers are not yet known.

State broadcaster Doordarshan News and Press Trust of India, a news agency cooperatively owned by Indian newspapers, earlier reported that at least four bodies had been recovered from the crash site.

The IAF said “an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident.”

Rawat was appointed India’s Chief of Defense Staff in December 2019. Prior to that, he was the Chief of Army Staff.

During a career spanning more than 40 years, Rawat commanded several battalions for the Indian army. He had received several awards for his service. He was first commissioned into the Indian Army in December 1978.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted of his deep anguish at the news of the 13 deaths.

“They served India with utmost diligence. My thoughts are with the bereaved families,” he said. “Gen Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernising our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply.”

India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Chief of Army Staff Gen. Manoj Mukund Naravane visited Rawat’s residence in New Delhi before his death was confirmed.

Singh later tweeted to express his condolences, saying his heart went out to the families of those killed.

“Deeply anguished by the sudden demise of Chief of Defense 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,” he wrote.

“General Rawat had served the country with exceptional courage and diligence. As the first Chief of Defence Staff he had prepared plans for jointness of our Armed Forces.”

Singh said he was praying for a speedy recovery for the officer who survived the crash.

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