India’s most senior military official has been killed in a helicopter crash in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the air force confirmed.
eneral Bipin Rawat and his wife, Madhulika Rawat, were among 14 people travelling in the chopper when it came down shortly after leaving the army base in Sulur.
Yesterday, the air force confirmed in a statement that Gen Rawat and his wife both died, and that there was only a single survivor from the crash.
The news has sent shockwaves through India, with the 63-year-old Gen Rawat a well-known figure after he was named India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in 2019, a role designed to provide oversight of the army, navy and air force combined.
“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 air force said in its statement. Earlier, it said that the crash involved an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, and that “an inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident”.
The first news of the crash had been accompanied by TV images of the helicopter’s badly damaged wreckage engulfed in flames, as local residents tried to douse it, while at least one eye witness told Indian media he had seen the chopper catch fire while descending and later the charred bodies of some passengers.
As the severity of the crash became clear, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called an emergency meeting of his security advisers and the president of India, Ram Nath Kovind, cleared his official schedule.
Other senior military figures were also listed as being on board at the time of the crash.