General Bipin Rawat death: no SOS before helicopter crash that killed Indian army chief

The helicopter lost contact with air traffic control seven minutes before it was supposed to land

The Indian Air Force helicopter that crashed on Wednesday and killed the military chief, Gen Bipin Rawat, and 12 others did not send a distress call before it was found in flames, India’s defence minister said on Thursday.

The helicopter had lost contact with air traffic control seven minutes before it was supposed to land.

In a statement in India’s parliament, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh did not indicate any SOS by the helicopter crew nor mention bad weather in the region in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The helicopter was making its descent at the time of the crash.

Rawat, 63, his wife and 11 army and air force personnel on board were killed in the crash on Wednesday. The lone survivor, air force Capt Varun Singh, is being treated in a military hospital, the air force said.

Mr Singh said that a military inquiry committee started work hours after the crash. Media reports said voice and data recorders, the black box, were recovered from the site.

The Russian-made Mi-17V5 helicopter was on its way from an air force base to the army defence 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.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Rawat had contributed greatly to modernising the country’s armed forces. “His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional,” Mr Modi said.

Mr Singh said Rawat “served the country with exceptional courage and diligence”.

Rawat was appointed India’s first chief of defence staff in December 2019, after Mr Modi created the post to bring synergy to the Indian armed forces, and was the most senior official in the Indian military. He was also an adviser to the Defence Ministry.

Rawat was born in March 1958 into a military family from Pauri in Himalayan Uttarakhand state with four generations of service to the country. His father retired from the army as a lieutenant general.

Updated: December 9th 2021, 10:32 AM