Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Chopper carrying Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat crashes near Ooty in Tamil Nadu

Chennai: An IAF helicopter carrying Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and others crashed near Coonoor in the Nilgris district of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday afternoon. The condition of Rawat was uncertain.

"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, " the IAF tweeted.

Charred bodies were recovered from the crash site. However, there was no confirmation from the Army on the extent of loss. There were a few Army personnel who were rescued with severe burn injuries and were taken to Army hospital in Wellington.

Tamil Nadu forest minister K Ramachandran, who visited the spot, said. “Fourteen people were on board the chopper. Seven bodies have been recovered so far according to information received. Efforts are on to rescue the remaining. Their condition is uncertain,’’ he said.

The chopper left Sulur air force station around 11.50am and the mishap happened within the next 30 minutes. The chopper crashed into a gorge in the jungle close to a small tribal settlement near Kattery, around seven km away from Coonoor and ten km away from the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington.

Preliminary reports said that the weather was bad in Coonoor which might have caused the mishap. Fire service, defence and police personnel have been pressed into rescue operations.

Rescue teams had tough time to reach the crash site and the terrain was uneven and there was thick vegetation. There was no proper pathway to access the accident spot beyond a point. Tribals suggested a jungle path to reach a tribal temple which was close to the accident spot from where Army personnel had to create a pathway.

Tribals in the locality told the police that they were used to army choppers frequenting the DSSC and hence did not pay much attention when helicopter flew over the spot. But only after the noise and smoke they realised that the chopper had crashed.

An eyewitness said that the sky was completely covered with mist and nothing was visible. Behind the mist they could see the chopper in flames coming down crashing, an aged man from the tribal settlement said.

Within minutes, ambulance and Army vehicles rushed to the spot. Six ambulances from Coimbatore and the Nilgiris were also summoned and the injured were rescued. They were sent to Wellington army hospital. Private hospital specialists were also asked to stay on alert.

Chief minister M K Stalin is expected to visit Coonoor in the evening while DGP Sylendra Babu is also heading to the spot.

08/12/21 Sindhu Kannan, Shantha Thiagarajan & V Mayilvaganan/Times of India

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