Head of India's Military Dies in Helicopter Crash

General's wife, 11 others also perish
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 8, 2021 5:09 PM CST
Head of India's Military Dies in Helicopter Crash
Indian Army Chief Bipin Rawat speaks in New Delhi in 2018.   (AP Photo, File)

India's military chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, and 12 others were killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash in southern Tamil Nadu state, the air force said. It said in a tweet that the helicopter "met with a tragic accident," the AP reports. The dead included Rawat's wife. The air force said one officer, Group Capt. Varun Singh, survived and is being treated in a military hospital. The air force said the Russian-made Mi-17V5 helicopter was on its way from an air force base to the army defense services college when it crashed near the town of Coonoor, a hill station in Tamil Nadu. The reason for the crash was not immediately known.

Television images from the crash site showed plumes of smoke billowing from the debris as local residents tried to put out the fire and remove bodies from the wreckage. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Rawat had contributed greatly to modernizing the country's armed forces. "His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional,” Modi said. Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said Rawat "served the country with exceptional courage and diligence." Archrival Pakistan's army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, expressed his condolences on the "tragic death" of Rawat and his wife, its government said in a tweet. The air force said an inquiry has been ordered into the accident.

Rawat, 63, was the most senior official in the Indian military and the first chief of defense staff, a position created in 2019. He was also an adviser to the Defense Ministry. His primary task was to overhaul the military, which has struggled to modernize and improve coordination among the army, navy and air force. He previously served as chief of army staff and also commanded forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir and along the frontier with China. He was a veteran of counterinsurgency operations. Rawat had survived a helicopter crash in 2015 in the northeast state of Nagaland.

(More helicopter crash stories.)

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