Helicopter crashes with Indian military leader on board, at least 3 dead
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New Delhi (AFP) – A helicopter carrying Indian defense chief Gen. Bipin Rawat crashed on Wednesday, the air force said, and rescuers at the scene said at least three people were dead.
Rawat is India’s first Chief of Defense Staff, a post the government created in 2019, and is considered close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 63-year-old was traveling in a Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter which “crashed today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu,” the Indian Air Force said on Twitter.
“There are three to four dead at the crash site but we do not know the identities,” a Coonoor fire official told AFP.
“Some of the injured were taken to hospital,” he said, adding that around 20 fire vehicles were on the scene to put out a blaze.
Rawat and his wife were on board with other officers on their way to the Defense Services Staff School, a senior army officer told AFP.
Videos broadcast on Indian news channels showed a flaming wreckage at the crash site in a dense wooded area near the Nilgiris District College.
Media reported that the helicopter took off from Sulur Air Base on Wednesday afternoon.
Rawat comes from a multi-generational military family who served in the Indian armed forces.
The general joined the army as a second lieutenant in 1978 and has four decades of service behind him, having commanded forces in Indian administered Kashmir and along the actual line of control on the border with China.
He is credited with curbing the insurgency on India’s northeastern border and overseeing a cross-border counterinsurgency operation in neighboring Myanmar.
Rawat was chief of the 1.3 million-strong army from 2017 to 2019 before his elevation to chief of defense services, which analysts said was expected to improve integration between the military, navy and the Air Force.
He is considered close to the Modi government and turned heads last month when he allegedly made an approving reference to the “lynching of terrorists” in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
The Mi-17 helicopter, which first entered service in the 1970s and is widely used by defense services around the world, has been involved in a number of accidents over the years.
Fourteen people died in an accident last month when an Azerbaijani military helicopter Mi-17 crashed during a training flight.
In 2019, four Indonesian soldiers were killed and five others injured in central Java in another training accident involving the plane.
The Indian Air Force said an investigation was underway into Wednesday’s crash.
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