by Peerzada Arshad Hamid
NEW DELHI, Dec. 8 (Xinhua) -- India's Chief of Defense Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and 12 others including his wife were killed and one was injured on Wednesday in a helicopter crash in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, officials said.
"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," India's Defense Minister Rajnath Singh wrote on social media.
"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," he said.
The helicopter crashed at Coonoor area of Nilgiris district, about 538 km southwest of Chennai, the capital city of Tamil Nadu.
According to officials, 14 people were on board -- nine passengers and five crew members, including Rawat's wife and his defense assistant.
"My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their loved ones in this accident. Praying for the speedy recovery of group captain Varun Singh, who is currently under treatment at the Military Hospital, Wellington," Singh wrote.
Singh visited the residence of Rawat in New Delhi to express solidarity with his family members. Singh has also reportedly briefed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the incident.
Reports said he is likely to brief parliament, which is currently in session, on the crash on Thursday.
Rawat had taken a flight from Delhi to Sulur in Coimbatore earlier in the day and the crash took place shortly after the Russian-made Mi-17 V5 chopper took off from the Air Force base in Sulur for Wellington in the Nilgiri Hills.
The crash was first reported around 12:20 p.m. local time Wednesday.
An eyewitness told the media he saw the helicopter falling down, crashing into trees and following which he saw charred bodies on the ground besides smoke and fire leaping from the mangled helicopter parts and damaged trees.
The cause of the crash was not immediately known, however, reports said there was low visibility and foggy conditions prevailing in the area.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has ordered an inquiry to ascertain the cause of the crash.
The 63-year-old Rawat took charge as India's first CDS on Dec. 31, 2019, after serving as the army chief for a full three-year term. CDS is the topmost military general in India and the position was set up with the aim of integrating the three services -- the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.
IAF's Mi-17V5 helicopter is a twin-engine chopper considered as one of the advanced military transport helicopters. It is used to carry important dignitaries, for deploying troops, arms transport, patrol and search and rescue missions.
Meanwhile, a high-powered cabinet committee on security -- which includes the prime minister, the home minister, the defence minister,the finance minister and the foreign affairs minister will meet during the evening.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin is scheduled to reach the crash site and India's Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari is on his way to Tamil Nadu.