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Nitesh Kumar Sahoo

An Indian Air Force helicopter with the Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat on board crashed near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday.

IAF on its Twitter handle confirmed the death of Gen Rawat.

"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 post read.

As reported by national media earlier, the identities of the bodies will be confirmed through DNA tests.

The IAF said a Court of Inquiry has been ordered into the accident involving a Mi-17VH chopper that took off from the Sulur IAF Station in nearby Coimbatore.

Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh condoled the sudden demise of Rawat and other officials on-board. 

"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," he Tweeted.

Expressing his anguish, he further said, "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."

"My heart goes out to the families of those who lost their loved ones in this accident. Praying for the speedy recovery of Gp Capt Varun Singh, who is currently under treatment at the Military Hospital, Wellington," he said in another post.

TV visuals showed the badly damaged chopper in flames, possibly under the impact of the crash. Apparently, a major tragedy was averted as the helicopter fell at some distance away from a human habitation, averting possible mass casualties.

The accident site was a scene of despair with trees being reduced to broken pieces under the impact of the crash, flames from the chopper engulfing the wooden logs resulting in billowing smoke and personnel scurrying to douse the fire, including using buckets and water hose. What seemed to be some charred bodies were also seen lying around.

The mangled and burnt remains of the ill-fated IAF chopper were strewn along the site, even as rescue services personnel were seen carrying bodies in stretchers to be transported through waiting ambulances.

The accident site remained out of bounds for civilians. Local eyewitnesses told a Tamil TV channel they could heard a loud noise, apparently of the crash, and later saw the chopper on fire, with some of the occupants suffering serious burn injuries.

Official sources in New Delhi said all the injured people on board the helicopter had been evacuated from the spot of the accident.

Rawat was on his way to the Defence Staff College in Wellington.

The helicopter, carrying a few senior officials, was on its way from Sulur in Coimbatore to DSC in Wellington where Rawat, along with Chief of Army Staff MM Naravane, was slated to participate in an event later, the sources added.

The chopper crashed in the forest area, reportedly due to poor visibility following heavy fog, they added.

Rescue personnel, along with Army men, were seen involved in clearing the area.

President Ram Nath Kovind, who is on a visit to Maharashtra, was scheduled to inaugurate the Darbar Hall at the Raj Bhavan here on Wednesday, but the event was put off.

Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari himself announced that the event was put off .

It is the wish of the Honourable President and ours that this programme be put off this opportunity (of inaugurating the hall) will come again in the future, Koshyari said.

The announcement, however, came after an Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter carrying Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and several other officers on board met with an accident near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu earlier in the day.

(With PTI Inputs)

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