Indian armed forces were among 13 dead in helicopter crash Reuters

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© Reuters. On January 29, 2019, Indian Army Commander-in-Chief Bipin Rawat arrived in New Delhi, India to participate in the defeat and retreat ceremony. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain

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Authors: Devjyot Ghoshal and Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters)-The Indian Air Force said the military helicopter they were flying in crashed on Wednesday, killing 13 people, including General Biping Rawat, the commander-in-chief of the Indian Armed Forces.

When the Russian-made Mi-17V5 helicopters landed near the town of Kunur, they were heading from the air base to the hillside military academy in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

Local television footage showed that rescuers and military personnel lifted the body from the damaged wreckage up a steep slope. Only 1 of the 14 people on board survived and was hospitalized due to injuries.

The Air Force said in a statement: “It is deeply regrettable that it has now been determined that General Bipin Rawat, (his wife) Madurica Rawat and 11 other people on board have died.”

Rawat, 63, was appointed by the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as India’s first Chief of Defense Staff at the end of 2019. The purpose of establishing this position is to integrate the three services of India-the army, the navy and the air force.

Two government sources said several bodies were severely burned. One of the sources said: “Some bodies were charred and could not be identified immediately.”

Modi said that he was deeply saddened by Lavat’s death. “As a true patriot, he has made great contributions to the modernization of our armed forces and security institutions,” the prime minister said.

In a tweet, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh called Rawat’s death “an irreparable loss for our armed forces and the country”.

The Indian Air Force ordered an investigation into the cause of the accident.

There are dozens of Mi-17s in service in India. They are widely used to transport senior military personnel and government ministers.

Former Army Chief of Staff JJSingh said: “This is a safe, proven helicopter. I have flew it in difficult situations.”

Rawat is an infantryman with more than 40 years of military service experience. He served on the border between India and China, the disputed Kashmir region, and the United Nations African Mission before taking over the Indian army at the end of 2016.

In New Delhi, Defense Minister Singh visited Rawat’s residence, and the National Broadcasting Corporation said Modi had convened a cabinet security committee meeting on Wednesday night.

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