An Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopter, which was carrying India's Chief of Defense Staff General Bipin Rawat, crashed in Coonoor, in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, on Wednesday. According to sources close to the IAF, the incident has so far claimed 13 lives. The crash was first reported around 12.20 pm Local time. Meanwhile, the condition of General Rawat is not known.
Indian officials rescued three people immediately after the crash, with a search operation ongoing for the others. The helicopter was flying with 14 people, including General Rawat's wife, Brig LS Lidder, Lt Col Harjinder Singh, NK Gursewak Singh, NK Jitendra Kr, L/Naik Vivek Kumar, L/Naik B Sai Teja and Hav Satpal and an IAF pilot. The three, who have been rescued, have sustained serious injuries, and have been admitted to a hospital at Wellington Cantonment in Nilgiris District. General Rawat was en route to Wellington in Coonoor from the Sulur IAF Base near Coimbatore. On Wednesday morning, he left Delhi for the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
The IAF has released a video on Twitter, that shows locals joining the rescue operation as massive flames engulfed the area. Several teams are at the site carrying out search and rescue operations. The IAF also launched an inquiry to find the cause of the accident. "An IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, with CDS Gen Bipin Rawat on board, met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu. An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident," tweeted the IAF.
According to an eyewitness, the chopper crashed into trees before bursting into flames. Krishnaswamy, the eyewitness to the incident, said: "I first heard a loud noise. When I came outside to see what had happened, I saw the helicopter crash into a tree. There was a huge fireball and then it crashed into another tree. I saw two-three people coming out of the helicopter, they were completely burnt and started falling." He told the media: "I called people who live in the area and we tried to help. The fire brigade and other emergency services were then informed."
Meanwhile, top IAF officers briefed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Defense Minister Rajnath Singh on the incident. Singh, who is monitoring the situation, has discussed the issue with Prime Minister Modi. After paying a visit to General Rawat's New Delhi residence, the Defense Minister said that he might brief the Parliament on the chopper crash on Thursday.