Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others were killed in a IAF helicopter crash near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu.
The helicopter carrying Gen Rawat and his entourage crashed in apparently foggy conditions, killing the 13 people on board, the IAF and other officials said. One person survived the crash and is being treated at a hospital.
Rawat was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), Wellington to address the faculty and student officers of the staff course when the fatal mishap happened.
The Nilgiris Collector SP Amrith confirmed to PTI that 13 persons were killed in the crash while there was one survivor. Group Captain Varun Singh SC, Directing Staff at DSSC and the sole survivor, is undergoing treatment for injuries at the Miltary Hospital, Wellington.
The IAF said a Court of Inquiry has been ordered into the accident, involving a Mi-17VH helicopter which took off from the Sulur IAF Station in nearby Coimbatore.
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin, who left for Coonoor, expressed shock over the incident.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi about the crash and the IAF chief has been asked to reach the site. Singh also visited the residence of Rawat in the national capital and spoke to his daughter.
According to accounts of official sources and a local eyewitnesses here, the helicopter was flying at a low altitude in the foggy conditions when it crashed into a valley here, before falling through trees. Fire engulfed the helicopter by the time it landed on the ground. Although it brushed a house during its fall, there was no human casualty or injury since the inmates were not at home. The building suffered damage in the episode. Two persons, who were ablaze, fell down from the helicopter, Perumal, an eyewitness said.
The helicopter carrying Rawat and others had left Sulur IAF station around 10.30 am on Wednesday and was supposed to land at DSSC in Wellington at Udhagamandalam about an hour later.
Later, it crashed in the forest area, reducing trees to pieces of logs and ashes due to resultant fire, even as the local people turned first responders to try and save the injured. However, they could not help the victims due to the raging flames and informed authorities. Apparently, a major tragedy was averted as the helicopter fell at some distance away from the human habitation, averting possible mass casualties.
The accident site was a scene of despair with flames from the helicopter engulfing the wooden logs resulting in billowing smoke and personnel scurrying to douse the fire, including using buckets and water hose. What seemed to be some charred bodies were also seen lying around. Rescue personnel apparently picked up charred, severed limbs strewn around.
The mangled and burnt remains of the IAF chopper were strewn along the site, even as rescue services personnel were seen carrying bodies in stretchers to be transported through waiting ambulances.The accident site remained out of bounds for civilians.
The copter crashed in Katteri-Nanchappanchathram area near here in the hilly Nilgiris district.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Stalin in a tweet, said "I am deeply shocked & disheartened on hearing the army chopper with CDS General Bipin Rawat and 13 others has met with an accident near Coonoor. I've instructed the local administration to provide all the help needed in rescue operations even as I'm rushing to the spot," he said.
(With PTI Inputs)