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NEW DELHI : Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Rajnath Singh led the nation on Thursday in paying homage to India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General (retd) Bipin Rawat who was killed in a helicopter crash a day earlier.

Rawat’s mortal remains, as well as those of 12 others who died with him on Wednesday, were flown to New Delhi on Thursday evening.

Rawat’s wife Madhulika, his defence advisor, Brigadier LS Lidder, and Rawat’s staff officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh, were among those who lost their lives on Wednesday when the Indian Air Force (IAF) MI-17V5 helicopter went down enroute to the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington.

Besides Modi and Singh, wreaths were placed by National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, the three services chiefs and defence secretary Ajay Kumar. Modi, Singh, Doval, and Kumar met with the members of the families of the crash victims ahead of the wreath laying ceremony.

The severity of the crash has led to problems in identifying the mortal remains of the crash victims, two people familiar with the matter said.

“Positive identification of only three (people’s) mortal remains has been possible as of now," one of those mentioned above said. The remains of Rawat, Madhulika, and Lidder had been identified and would be released to the next of kin for final rites as desired by their respective families.

Rawat’s funeral is to take place on Friday. As a mark of respect, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan will send senior military officials to represent their countries during Rawat’s last rites, a second person familiar with the matter said.

Sri Lanka is sending Chief of Defence Staff and Commander of the Army, Gen Shavendra Silva. Bhutan 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. Earlier, Singh told both houses of Parliament said that a triservice enquiry commission headed by a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer has been constituted to investigate the cause of the military helicopter crash. Singh said Rawat was on a scheduled visit to Wellington, 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.

“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 and rushed to the spot where they observed the wreckage of the military helicopter engulfed in flames," he 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 on board the ill-fated helicopter, 13 have succumbed to injuries," Singh said. Group Captain Varun Singh, the sole survivor of the crash, was now on life support, he said. “Every effort is being made to save him," Singh said.

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