Insight Online News
New Delhi, Dec 8 : An IAF chopper carrying India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife and several top Army officials crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu. Nilgiris District Collector SP Amrith told UNI that all the 14 on board the ill-fated chopper were rescued from the crash site and there is a single male survivor.
The fate of the CDS remained uncertain as images of the crashed chopper showed everything charred at the site.
Amrith did not elaborate further.The Nilgiris District Collector is camping at the spot and overseeing the rescue and relief operations.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the development. Singh was biriefed on the crash by Army chief MM Naravane at the South Block.
Singh’s statement in the Parliament on the crash is awaited on Thursday as Rajya Sabha adjourned for the day. Singh chaired a meeting of key defence officials., and also visited the New Delhi residence of Gen Rawat.
The crash site is five km from Coonoor bus stand–a down slide leading to the valley on the left of the bus stand. It is a very thick forested area and accessibility is very very difficult, said eyewitnesses, adding that one of the blades hit a tree following which the chopper crashed and exploded.
One of the eyewitnesses, a resident of Katteri, said he came rushing out after hearing a loud sound. “I ran out and saw the chopper plunging steeply into the valley below, before it hit a tree and crashed,” he said.
“As the fire was too big, we couldn’t approach [the site],” he said.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, who spoke to higher officials and the Nilgiris District Collector, air dashed to Coimbatore and was likely to visit the crash site in the evening.
Stalin tweeted: “I am deeply shocked and disheartened on hearing the army chopper with CDS General Bipin Rawat and 13 others has met with an accident near Coonoor. I’ve instructed the local administration to provide all the help needed in rescue operations even as I’m rushing to the spot.”
He also directed the district administration to provide the best of treatment to the injured and speed up rescue and relief works at the accident spot.
Tamil Nadu DGP C Sylendra Babu also rushed to Coimbatore to oversee the relief and rescue operations.
A 15-member special team from Indian Army was rushed to Coonoor to speed up the relief and rescue works earlier.
District Officials throughout the rescue operation refused to divulge the condition of the rescued to stem any kind of misinformation.
Radhakrishnan said those injured had sustained very serious burns and were shifted to the Military hospital in Wellington.
The chopper took off at 11.47 am from Sulur and was heading to Wellington when it crashed at 12.20 am about 5-10 km and five minutes from the landing site.
Gen Rawat was scheduled to address an event at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington when the crash took place.
Even before the police, fire service, district and revenue officials could reach the spot, villagers in the area jumped into the rescue act and made all attempts to douse the flames, which raged for more than an hour as the fuel tank was full.
District officials, along with the locals, were involved in collecting the remnants of the helicopter.
Special medical teams from Coimbatore hospitals were sent to Coonoor for providing treatment to the injured.
The Indian Air Force confirmed the accident, while officials said details were awaited about the fate of those onboard.
The CDS’ wife and President of Army Wives Welfare Association Madhulika Rawat; Defence Assistant, security commandos and Indian Air Force personnel were onboard the chopper.
“An IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. An Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the cause,” IAF said in a statement.
The chopper crashed in the Nilgiris, shortly after it took off from the army base in Sulur in Coimbatore.
Reports said the helicopter crashed in the Kaatteri hilly area. It exploded soon after it took off from Sulur Air Base.
Sources said four bodies, which were charred beyond recognition, were recovered from the spot.
As per a record, the people on board were Gen Rawat, Madhulika Rawat (wife of CDS), Brig LS Lidder, Lt Col Harjinder Singh, NK Gursewak Singh, NK Jitendra Kumar, L/NK Vivek Kumar, L/NK B Sai Teja, Havildar Satpal among others.
Three officers, who sustained serious injuries and burns, were shifted to a hospital.
The helicopter crashed in Nilgiris district of Tamil Nadu was heading to Wellington from Sulur. The scheduled 15-minute ride crashed just ahead of landing.
Four bodies were recovered in the beginning and all were charred beyond recognition and awaiting identification.
Three officers, who sustained serious injuries and burns, were shifted to a hospital, and their condition was stated to be critical.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: “Hoping for the safety of CDS General Bipin Rawat, his wife and others onboard the chopper. Prayers for speedy recovery.”
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “Extremely tragic news coming in from Coonoor. Today, the entire nation prays for the safety of those who were onboard, including CDS Bipin Rawat and his family members. Also praying for the speedy recovery of everyone who was injured.”
Former Punjab Chief Minister and founder of Punjab Lok Congress Amarinder Singh tweeted: “Extremely sad to see the images of the chopper crash with CDS Bipin Rawat and his wife on board. Praying for the safety of all.”