Coimbatore: As many as 13 of the 14 occupants of the Indian Air Force helicopter, which had Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat among others onboard, died in the tragic crash on Wednesday, a top district official said. There was one survivor, a male,reports PTI quoting Nilgiris Collector SP Amrith.
"Thirteen of the 14 (occupants) have died. There is one male survivor," he said without divulging details. The identities of the deceased will be confirmed via DNA testing.
"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 confirmed in a statement on Twitter adding that an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident. The crash happened at a distance of about 10 km from the helipad where it was to land with CDS Rawat, who was to attend a cadet interaction programme today afternoon at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington
The helicopter carrying Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat and his family members crashed in the Coonoor region of Tamil Nadu around 12.20 pm. The crash took place shortly after the Russian-made Mi-17 V5 chopper took off from the Air Force base in Sulur, Coimbatore, for Wellington in the Nilgiri Hills.
The helicopter was already making its descent and would have landed in 10 more minutes. It came down around 10 km from the nearest road, forcing emergency workers to trek to the accident site, said news agency AFP.
Tamil Nadu forest minister K Ramachandran, who visited the spot, said seven bodies were recovered from the crash site at the time according to a report in the Times of India. Rescue operations were effected to locate the rest of the passengers. The Indian Air Force helicopter was carrying 14 passengers in total when it crashed between Coimbatore and Sulur in Tamil Nadu, the ANI news agency reported. CDS Bipin Rawat was en route to Wellington in Coonoor from the Indian Air Force base in Sulur near Coimbatore, as per sources.
"I am deeply shocked & disheartened on hearing the army chopper with CDS General Bipin Rawat and 13 others has met with an accident near Coonoor. I've instructed the local administration to provide all the help needed in rescue operations even as I'm rushing to the spot," Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K Stalin tweeted. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh has also travelled to Rawat's residence in Delhi.
The three who have been rescued suffered serious burn injuries and have been taken to the hospital al Wellington cantonment in Nilgiris district. Visuals released by ANI show locals battling the flames in the crash site.
Along with General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, Brigadier L.S. Lidder, Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitender Kumar, Naik Vivek Kumar, Naik B. Sai Teja, Havaldar Satpal and pilots were travelling in the chopper.