India’s defence chief General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and 11 other people were killed after a military helicopter they were travelling in crashed in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has said.
The IAF said in a Twitter post the “tragic accident” took place near the town of Coonoor at noon on Wednesday. The helicopter was on its way from an Air Force base to the Defence Services Staff College when it crashed.
Authorities said they have opened an investigation. India’s Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was expected to make a statement on the incident in Parliament later on Wednesday, Al Jazeera says in a report citing news agencies.
Earlier, news channels showed a flight manifest that displayed the names of nine passengers, including Rawat’s wife and other senior defence officials.
Videos broadcast on Indian news channels showed the helicopter in flames in a densely forested area near the college as locals tried to put out the fire.
Rawat was India’s first chief of defence staff, a position the Indian government established in 2019 and which he assumed last year after retiring as army chief. He was seen as being close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and was an adviser to the defence ministry.
Rawat hailed from a military family, with several generations serving in the Indian armed forces.
The general, who had four decades of service behind him, has commanded forces in Indian-administered Kashmir and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China.
He has been credited with reducing armed conflicts on India’s northeastern frontier and supervised a cross-border counterinsurgency operation into neighbouring Myanmar.