A military helicopter carrying 14 people went down in southern India, and only one person on board the aircraft survived, the Indian Air Force (IAF) confirmed on Wednesday.
The dead included India’s military chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, and his wife, Madhulika Rawat, the air force said—adding that one officer, Group Capt. Varun Singh, survived the crash and is being treated in a military hospital in the state of Tamil Nadu.
“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 IAF said in a statement on social media.
The helicopter, described as a Russian-made Mi-17V5, was en route from an air force base to a hillside military college in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu when the aircraft came down near the town of Coonoor.
Video and images from the crash site shared on social media showed debris of the aircraft in flames next to broken trees. Other footage shows army personnel removing bodies from the wreckage.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement he is “deeply anguished by the helicopter crash” and the news of 13 deaths, saying everyone involved “served India with utmost diligence.”
“Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernizing our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional,” Modi said on Twitter.
Gen Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernising our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply. Om Shanti. pic.twitter.com/YOuQvFT7Et
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) December 8, 2021
India’s Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said on social media his “heart goes out to the families of those who lost their loved ones,” wishing the accident’s sole survivor a speedy recovery.
Singh also said Rawat’s untimely death is an “irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country.”
Rawat, 63, was appointed as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government in late 2019. The position was set up with the aim of integrating India’s three military services—the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force.
An infantryman with over four decades of military service, Rawat served along India’s border with China, the disputed Kashmir region, and on a United Nations mission in Africa, before taking charge of the Indian army in late 2016.
India has dozens of Mi-17s in service. They are widely deployed to transport senior army personnel and government ministers.
The air force said an inquiry has been ordered into the accident.
Reuters contributed to this report.