13 Killed in Helicopter Crash, Including India's Top Military Chief and His Wife

On Wednesday, Indian air force officials said 13 people were killed in a helicopter crash, including top military chief General Bipin Rawat and his wife.

The crash occurred in Tamil Nadu state, located in southern India. Fourteen individuals were on board the helicopter when it crashed. Thirteen people died, and one officer, Group Captain Varun Singh, survived. He is being treated at a military hospital.

Rawat, 63, and his wife perished in the crash. He was the first chief of defense staff for the Indian military. His main job was to modernize the army, navy, and airforce military. He was the first of his position, which was created in 2019. He was the highest senior official in the military.

In 2015, Rawat had survived a different helicopter crash in the state of Nagaland located in northeast India.

Members of the military were saddened by his death and talked about how Rawat "served the country with exceptional courage and diligence," said Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

The helicopter left an airforce base and was headed towards the army defense services college when the helicopter "met with a tragic accident," said the air force in a tweet.

Pictures from the crash site showed locals trying to remove bodies from the wreck and column of smoke coming from the mangled aircraft.

It is currently unknown what caused the helicopter to crash.

Helicopter Crash, 13 Casualties, India
People light candles to pay their respect in front of a portrait of defence chief General Bipin Rawat in Siliguri on December 8, 2021, after reports of a helicopter crash in which General Rawat and his wife were among 13 casualties. Diptendu Dutta/ AFP/Getty Images

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Rawat had contributed greatly to modernizing the country's armed forces. "His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional," Modi said.

Archrival Pakistan's army chief, General Qamar Javed Bajwa, expressed his condolences on the "tragic death" of Rawat and his wife, its government said in a tweet.

The air force said an inquiry has been ordered into the accident.

He previously served as chief of army staff and also commanded forces in Indian-controlled Kashmir and along the frontier with China. He was a veteran of counterinsurgency operations.

In 2015, Rawat oversaw Indian "surgical strikes" into neighboring Myanmar, when para-commandos entered the country to attack Naga rebels who had ambushed and killed Indian troops.

In 2017, he awarded a gallantry medal to an army officer who had tied a civilian to the front of his jeep in Kashmir, where rebels are fighting Indian rule. The incident sparked controversy within India and outside, with rights groups saying the officer used the man as a human shield against stone-throwing protesters. Rawat said the officer's actions were within the rules because the army was facing a "dirty war" in the disputed region and had to fight using "innovative" ways.

Last month, he triggered another controversy by saying on television that Kashmir residents are offering to "lynch terrorists themselves" and that it was a "very positive sign." Lynchings are illegal under Indian law. He did not provide any evidence to support his statement.

Kashmir is divided between India and Pakistan, and both claim the entire Himalayan territory. Most Muslim Kashmiris support the rebels' goal of a united Kashmir, either independent or under Pakistan rule.

The type of military transport helicopter that crashed Wednesday, Mi-17V5, is widely used in India by the army and ministers when visiting defense locations.

In 2017, an Mi-17V5 helicopter crashed in northeast Arunachal Pradesh state, killing seven military personnel.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

India, Helicopter Crash
People try to contain the fire after an army helicopter carrying India's Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat crashed near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu state, India, on December 8, 2021. India’s military chief, General Bipin Rawat, and 12 others were killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash in southern Tamil Nadu state, the air force said. Bangalore New Photos/AP Photo