Defence Minister Rajnath Singh made a formal statement in Parliament on Thursday providing details about the IAF helicopter crash that killed Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and 12 others. He explained that Sulur Air Base Air Traffic Control lost contact with the Mi-17 V5 Helicopter at about 12.08 pm barely a few minutes before its scheduled landing at Wellington where the CDS was going to interact with the student officers. He also revealed that the IAF had ordered a tri-services enquiry headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh. He is currently serving as the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command.
Rajnath Singh stated, “Gen Bipin Rawat was on a scheduled visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington to interact with the student Officers. The Air Force Mi-17 V5 helicopter took off from Sulur Air Base at 11:48 AM yesterday and was expected to land at Wellington by 12:15 PM. Air Traffic Control at Sulur Air Base lost contact with the helicopter at approximately 12:08 PM. Subsequently, few locals spotted a fire in the forest near Coonoor and rushed to the spot where they observed the wreckage of military helicopter engulfed in flames. Rescue teams from the local administration in the vicinity reached the site and attempted to recover the survivors from the crash site.”
“All those recovered from the wreckage were rushed to the Military Hospital, Wellington. Latest reports have confirmed that out of the total 14 persons onboard the ill-fated helicopter, 13 have succumbed to their injuries. The dead include the spouse of the CDS, Mrs. Madhulika Rawat, his Defence Adviser Brig Lakhbinder Singh Lidder, Staff Officer Lt Col Harjinder Singh and nine other Armed Forces personnel including the Air Force helicopter crew. Their names are Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan, Squadron Leader Kuldeep Singh, Junior Warrant Officer Rana Pratap Das, Junior Warrant Officer Arakkal Pradeep, Havildar Satpal Rai, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitendra Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar, Lance Naik B Sai Teja”, he added.
Moreover, he mentioned that Group Captain Varun Singh is on life support in the Military Hospital at Wellington and all efforts are being made to save his life. Paying homage to all the deceased persons and expresing condolences to the bereaved families, he also informed the House that General Rawat will be cremated with full military honours. Earlier in the day, the black box of the helicopter was retrieved in the wake of authorities expanding the search area from 300 metres to 1 km from the accident.
With a distinguished Army career spanning 42 years, Gen Bipin Rawat was appointed as India’s first Chief of Defence Staff on 31 Dec 2019, a day before his retirement. After graduating from the National Defence Academy in 1978, he was commissioned into the Fifth Battalion of the Eleventh Gorkha Rifles of the Infantry, the Battalion which was Commanded by his father Lt. General Laxman Singh Rawat. Handling multiple operational portfolios, Rawat commanded an Infantry Battalion along the Line of Actual Control in the Eastern Sector and a Rashtriya Rifles Sector in the Kashmir Valley.
He was also assigned to Command an Infantry Division along the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir and was Corps Commander in the North-East. Prior to assuming charge as CDS, he has held multiple portfolios like General Staff Officer at Military Operations Directorate, the Colonel and later Deputy Military Secretary in the Military Secretary’s Branch, the Major General Staff of the Eastern Theatre, Vice Chief of the Army Staff. He was also the Chief of the Army Staff from 31 Dec 2016 to 31 Dec 2019 and was succeeded by Gen MM Naravane.
The mortal remains of Gen. Rawat and 12 others who died in the chopper crash have been brought to the Madras Regimental Centre from the Military Hospital, Wellington. Their mortal remains are likely to be initially moved to the Sulur Air Force Station and might arrive in the national capital by today evening. As per sources, the CDS and his wife will be cremated in the Brar Square crematorium in Delhi Cantonment on December 10. People shall reportedly be allowed to pay their last respects from 11 am to 2 pm on Friday followed by a funeral procession which will start from Kamraj Marg to the crematorium.