Home / News / India /  India's top military officer, CDS General Bipin Rawat, dies in chopper crash

NEW DELHI : General (retd) Bipin Rawat, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General, died on Wednesday when an Indian Air Force helicopter ferrying him and 13 others crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, the Indian Air Force said.

The crash took place as Rawat was on his way to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington. It is being speculated that the crash took place due to low visibility in foggy conditions.

“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 Indian Air Force (IAF) said in a Twitter post late Wednesday.

“Gen Bipin Rawat, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (Nilgiri Hills) to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course today," the IAF said in a second post.

“Around noon today (Wednesday), an IAF Mi 17 V5 helicopter with a crew of 4 members carrying the CDS and 9 other passengers met with a tragic accident near Coonoor, TN," the IAF said.

“Gp Capt (Group Captain) Varun Singh SC, Directing Staff at DSSC (Defence Services Staff College) with injuries is currently under treatment at Military Hospital, Wellington," the IAF said.

Rawat, a former Indian army chief, took office as the first CDS on 1 January 2020 at the start of a three year term. He was the one point defence advisor to the Defence Minister. He was also entrusted with carrying out some of the country’s key defence reforms – creating synergy among the three services by merging their 17 different commands into four or five joint commands. The new commands were to focus on specific borders.

Describing Rawat as an “outstanding soldier," Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a Twitter post said: “As India’s first CDS, Gen Rawat worked on diverse aspects relating to our armed forces including defence reforms. He brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service."

The Russian made Mi-17V5 helicopter in which Rawat, his wife, two senior military aides and his security detail were traveling in, was being piloted by Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan, the Commanding Officer of the 109 Helicopter unit, ANI news agency quoting sources said.

The crash on Wednesday is seen as one of the worst in Indian military history.

Another crash in 1963 near Poonch in Kashmir killed Lt General Daulat Singh, General Officer Commanding in Chief, Western Command, Let General Bikram Singh, Corps Commander, Major General N.D. Nanawati, Brigadier Sri ram Oberoi, Air Vice Marshal E.W. Pinto, Air Officer Commanding in Chief, Western Command and Flight Lt.S.S Sodhi.

The security protocol evolved after the 1963 crash deemed that no two senior officers of the same force or different forces would travel in the same chopper – especially the chiefs of the three services.

“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 said in a Twitter post.

“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 in a second post.

Home Minister Amit Shah, Foreign Minister S Jaishankar and Roads and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari were among those who posted tributes to Rawat on Twitter.

Condolences have also come in from Bhutan, Maldives, Israel, Russia and the US.

“As India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General Rawat spearheaded a historic period of transformation in the Indian military. He was a strong friend and partner of the United States, overseeing a major expansion of India’s defense cooperation with the U.S. military. In September, he spent five days traveling throughout the United States as part of a counterpart visit with General Mark Milley to discuss military developments and opportunities to enhance our cooperation with like-minded countries. His legacy will continue on," the US Embassy said in a statement.

Russian ambasador Nikolay Kudashev in a Twitter post said: “Russia has lost a very close friend, who played a big role in promotion of our bilateral special and privileged strategic partnership. Grieving together with India. Goodbye, friend! Farewell, commander!"

Speculation that Rawat had died in the crash mounted after TV visuals from the crash site showed flames burning in sections of the badly mangled helicopter while other parts were seen smouldering. The debris from the chopper was seen spread over a hilly forested terrain.

Doubts that Rawat had not survived the crash became stronger after

after Defence Minister Singh visited Rawat’s residence. Indian Army chief Manoj Mukund Naravane also visited Rawat’s residence.

The IAF statement confirming Rawat’s demise came just ahead of a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting called to take stock of the situation.

The Mi17V5 helicopter in which Rawat was traveling is seen as an advanced military transport chopper that has been with the IAF since 2012.

Manufactured by Russian Helicopters' subsidiary Kazan, the helicopter has an onboard weather radar and is equipped with the latest generation of night vision devices.

The helicopter is fitted with advanced TV3-117VM engines. It is the most technically advanced helicopter of Mi-8/17 family.

It has the new PKV-8 autopilot system, a KNEI-8 avionics suite, can carry a maximum takeoff weight of 13,000 kilograms and maximum payload weight of 4,000 kilograms. It has a maximum speed of 250 kilometres per hour.

India signed a deal with Russia in 2008 to induct 80 Mi17V5 medium lift helicopters for strengthening its chopper fleet for humanitarian and disaster relief missions and transport operations.

The contract was later expanded for delivery of 151 Mi17V5 helicopters. The first batch of these helicopters came to India in September 2011.

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