Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh Thursday announced that a tri-service enquiry had been ordered by the Indian Air Force (IAF) into, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 others. The enquiry, he said, would be headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command.
Speaking in Lok Sabha, Singh expressed profound grief over the demise of Rawat. “With profound grief and a heavy heart, I stand to convey the unfortunate news of the crash of the military helicopter in the noon of 8th December 2021, with India’s first Chief of Defence Staff,onboard,” he said.
“General Bipin Rawat was on a scheduled visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington to interact with the student Officers. The Air Force Mi 17 V 5 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,” he told the House.
According to the Defence Minister, all those recovered from the wreckage were rushed to 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.
“Group Captain Varun Singh is on life support in the Military Hospital at Wellington and all efforts are being made to save his life,” Singh said.
“The Chief of Defence Staff would be cremated with full military honours,” he added.
Following his statement, the Lok Sabha paid tributes to him and the other soldiers who died in the crash.
Speaker Om Birla, on behalf of the House, paid rich tributes to Rawat, saying that as the first CDS, he had made a valuable contribution to the nation and was fully committed to its security.
The House observed a minute of silence in honour of Rawat and the other victims.
Earlier, Opposition parties had announced that they would suspend their ongoing protests against the suspension of 12 Rajya Sabha MPs in honour of the deceased.
On Thursday morning, the mortal remains of the victims were taken to the Madras Regimental Centre for a wreath laying ceremony which was attended by military personnel and top officials from the Tamil Nadu government.
General Rawat, 63, was on his way to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington where he was to deliver a lecture. His wife, president of the Defence Wives Welfare Association, was accompanying him along with members of the CDS staff.
Announcing General Rawat’s death, the IAF, in a Twitter post, said: “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.”
It said an Mi-17V5 helicopter “with a crew of 4 members carrying the CDS and 9 other passengers met with a tragic accident near Coonoor”. A Court of Inquiry has been ordered.