Who Was Bipin Rawat? India's Top General Dies in Helicopter Crash

India's top general, his wife and 11 others are confirmed dead after the military helicopter they were traveling in crashed in southern India.

Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat, 63, was aboard a Mi-17V5 helicopter that crashed near the town of Coonoor in southern India on Wednesday, killing 13 of the 14 people on board, the Indian Air Force said on Twitter.

The Air Force confirmed that Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 others had died.

"Around noon today, an IAF Mi 17 V5 helicopter with a crew of 4 members carrying the CDS and 9 other passengers met with a tragic accident near Coonoor, TN," the Air Force said in a tweet. "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."

Rawat had been traveling from an Indian Air Force base in Sulur to the Defense Services Staff College in Wellington in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to deliver a lecture.

Rescuers were able to save one person, identified as Captain Varun Singh, who was taken to hospital for treatment, the Air Force said.

Video footage of the crash site showed plumes of smoke billowing from the wreckage and people trying to put out the fire.

The reason for the crash was not immediately clear, but the Air Force said an inquiry has been ordered to determine the cause.

India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has paid tribute to Rawat in a statement posted on Twitter.

"I am deeply anguished by the helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu in which we have lost Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and other personnel of the Armed Forces. They served India with utmost diligence. My thoughts are with the bereaved families," Modi said.

"Gen Bipin 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. His passing away has saddened me deeply. Om Shanti."

Modi's statement said Rawat worked on "diverse aspects relating to our armed forces including defense reforms" as the country's first Chief of Defense Staff.

"He brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service," Modi said.

Rawat was appointed to the newly created role by Modi's government in late 2019 after retiring as the army's chief.

Updated at 8:15 a.m. ET: This article has been updated with additional information.

Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat
Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat delivers a speech during the launch ceremony for the stealth frigate Himgiri into the Hooghly River in Kolkata on December 14, 2020. Dibyangshu Sarkar/AFP via Getty Images