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Prime Minister Narendra Modi is expected to lead the nation on Thursday in paying homage to India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General (retd) Bipin Rawat who was killed along with 12 others in a helicopter crash a day earlier.  

Rawat’s mortal remains as well as those killed with him are to be flown to New Delhi, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told both houses of parliament on Thursday. 

A triservice enquiry commission headed by senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer has been constituted to investigate the cause of the military helicopter crash that killed Rawat and the others, the minister said.  

Briefing parliament on the crash that took place on Wednesday, Singh said that Rawat, his wife and others were on a scheduled visit to the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington, in Tamil Nadu when the crash took place.  

 “The Air Force Mi 17 V 5 helicopter took off from Sulur Air Base at 11:48 AM yesterday (Wednesday) and was expected to land at Wellington by 12:15 PM," Singh said in his statement.  

 “Air Traffic Control at Sulur Air Base lost contact with the helicopter at approximately 12:08 PM. Subsequently, few locals spotted a fire in the forest near Coonoor and rushed to the spot where they observed the wreckage of military helicopter engulfed in flames. Rescue teams from the local administration in the vicinity reached the site and attempted to recover the survivors from the crash site," Singh said.  

 “All those recovered from the wreckage were rushed to the Military Hospital, Wellington. Latest reports have confirmed that out of the total 14 persons onboard the ill-fated helicopter, 13 have succumbed to their injuries," Singh said adding that Group Captain Varun Singh, the sole survivor in the crash was now on life support. “Every effort is being made to save him," Singh said.  

A triservice enquiry commission has been constituted which is headed by Air Marshal Manvender Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command, the defence minister said. The commission had already started its work, investigating the causes of the crash. IAF chief Vivek Ram Chaudhuri had been despatched to Wellington soon after the crash, Singh said.  

Rawat would be accorded full military honours at his funeral and the others would be given appropriate military honours at their funerals, the defence minister said.  

Meanwhile, the Flight Data Recorder of the Mi-17V5 helicopter had been recovered from the site where the chopper went down, two people familiar with the matter said.  

 “All the mortal remains have been moved by vehicle convoy (by road) from Wellington to Sulur at around 1200 hours (since the weather is not appropriate for air operations)," one of the people cited above said. The bodies were expected to reach New Delhi at 7.30 PM. 

 “Shradhanjali (homage) by the apex leadership has been planned at Delhi," the person said. 

The severity of air crash has led to problems in definitively identifying the mortal remains of the crash victims. 

 “Positive identification of only three mortal remains has been possible as of now,"  the person said adding that Rawat, his wife, Madhulika Rawat, and Rawat’s defence advisor Brigadier LS Lidder’s remains had been identified and would be released to the next of kin for final rites as desired by their  respective families.   

 “Group Captain Varun Singh is still critical and has been moved by a vehicle ambulance (by road) to Sulur for further move to Command Hospital, Bangalore," the person added. 

As a mark of respect to Rawat, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bhutan will be sending senior Army officials to represent their countries at Rawat's last rites scheduled to be held on Friday, a second person familiar with the matter said.  

Sri Lanka is sending Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army, Gen Shavendra Silva. The Royal Bhutan Army will be represented by Brig. Dorji Rinchen, Deputy Chief Operations Officer, Royal Bhutan Army. The Nepali Army will be represented by Vice Chief of Army Staff Lt General Bal Krishna Karki. 

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