“An IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu,” the Indian Air Force said on Twitter.
According to India Today, at least four people have died in the crash, while three others with severe burn injuries have been rescued so far. The identities of the deceased have not been ascertained yet.
The report quoted sources as saying that there were 14 people on board, including 63-year-old Gen Rawat, his wife, defence assistant, security commandos and an IAF pilot.
Indian news agency ANI tweeted visuals from the crash site, showing the wreckage of the copter consumed by fire in a dense forested area in Nilgiris district. According to the wire service, Rawat’s family was also on board the ill-fated chopper.
Media reports said the chopper took off from Sulur Air Force Station on Wednesday afternoon.
The air force said an inquiry was underway into the accident.
The Mi-17 helicopter, which first entered service in the 1970s and is in wide use by defence services around the world, has been involved in a number of accidents over the years.
Fourteen people died in a crash last month when an Azerbaijani military Mi-17 chopper went down during a training flight.
In 2019, four Indonesian soldiers were killed and five others wounded in central Java in another training accident involving the aircraft.
Who is Gen Rawat?
CDS General Bipin Rawat is the highest-serving military official in the Indian army, who was appointed to the newly created post of CDS, a day before he was set to retire as the army chief on December 31, 2019. As part of his new assignment, Gen Rawat was heading the new Department of Military Affairs in the Defence Ministry.
In Dec 2015, the Modi government had appointed Gen Rawat as the army chief by superseding two senior officers.
Rawat comes from a military family with several generations having 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-occupied Kashmir and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China.
He is credited with reducing insurgency on India’s northeastern frontier and supervised a cross-border counter-insurgency operation into neighbouring Myanmar.
Rawat is considered close to the Modi government and turned heads last month when he reportedly made an approving reference to “lynching terrorists” in occupied Kashmir.