NEW DELHI (AP) — India’s military chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, and 12 others were killed Wednesday in a helicopter crash in southern Tamil Nadu state, the air force said.
It said in a tweet that the helicopter "met with a tragic accident.”
The dead included Rawat's wife. The air force said one officer, Group Capt. Varun Singh, survived and is being treated in a military hospital.
Public broadcaster Prasar Bharati said the Mi-17V5 helicopter was on its way from an air force base to the army defense services college when it crashed near the town of Coonoor, a hill station in Tamil Nadu. The reason for the crash was not immediately known.
Television images from the crash site showed plumes of smoke billowing from the debris as local residents tried to put out the fire and remove bodies from the wreckage.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Rawat contributed greatly to modernizing the country’s armed forces. "His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional,” Modi said.
Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said Rawat "served the country with exceptional courage and diligence.”
The air force said an inquiry has been ordered into the accident.
Rawat, 63, was the most senior official in the Indian military and the first chief of defense staff, a position created by the government in 2019. He was also an adviser to the Defense Ministry and handles coordination and integration of the combat capabilities of the armed forces.
Rawat previously served as chief of army staff.
Sheikh Saaliq And Ashok Sharma, The Associated Press