NEW DELHI — A helicopter carrying India’s top military official crashed on Wednesday in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, officials said.
According to local news reports, 14 people were on the flight, including relatives of the official, Gen. Bipin Rawat. The number of casualties and survivors, and the condition of General Rawat, were not clear.
A local official at the scene of the crash said that rescuers had been able to save one passenger, who had been taken to a nearby hospital. A second official who had also visited the site said that 13 people had been retrieved from the wreckage, but would not comment on their condition, or even if any of them had survived.
Video footage showed the wreckage in a forested slope, with rescue workers trying to douse the flames.
The Indian Air Force, in a brief statement, confirmed that General Rawat was on the flight when it went down near Coonoor, a hill station in Tamil Nadu, around noon local time, and said that an investigation would be conducted to determine what had caused the crash.
“I reached the crash site shortly after 12:30 p.m. Locals around the site heard a huge blast and then fire and smoke emanated from the site of crash,” Deepak Manobala, a village administrative officer in Coonoor, said in a phone interview. “All I could see was smoke and the tail of the aircraft, which was the only visible part.”
General Rawat, 63, a former army chief, was elevated to the newly created position of chief of the defense staff in January 2019. His career has included leadership roles in the country’s restive northeast, as well as United Nations peacekeeping missions abroad.
As the coordinator of the various wings of the Indian military and the principal uniformed adviser to the government, General Rawat had the task of overhauling and streamlining an Indian military that has struggled to modernize. Recent clashes with Pakistan and China have again raised concerns about the state of India’s military equipment in the face of a two-pronged threat on its borders.