Head of Indian military, wife, 11 others killed in helicopter crash

The deaths of Indian defense chief Gen. Bipin Rawat and his wife were confirmed in a tweet by the Indian Air Force.

 Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat arrives for the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2019. (photo credit: ALTAF HUSSAIN/REUTERS)
Indian Army chief General Bipin Rawat arrives for the Beating the Retreat ceremony in New Delhi, India, January 29, 2019.

Indian defense chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 military personnel were confirmed killed when a military helicopter carrying them crashed in southern India.

One of the officers, group captain Varun Singh, was rescued from the crash and is in the hospital being treated for his injuries. According to the Times of India, he is currently fighting for his life, and is hospitalized in critical condition with 80% of his body covered in burns.

The deaths were confirmed in a tweet by the Indian Air force.

Four other members of the Indian Air Force who died in the crash have been identified as Wing Commander PS Chauhan, Squadron Leader K Singh, Junior Warrant Officer Rana Pratap Das and Junior Warrant Officer Pradeep A, according to the news agency Asian News International (ANI).

Rawat's remains, as well as the remains of all other victims of the crash, will reach Delhi by Thursday evening, according to ANI.

According to the Times of India, Rawat's remains will be brought to his home Friday, where people can come pay their respects from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. local time. Afterward, a funeral procession will be held from Kamraj Marg to Brar Square crematorium in Delhi Cantonment, where the remains will be cremated.

The helicopter was just minutes away from reaching its destination, according to the Times of India. A 3-day mourning period was declared in the state of Uttarakhand.

Rawat, a man with a long and decorated career in the Indian military, was appointed as India's first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in late 2019. The position was set up with the aim of integrating India's three services — the Army, Navy, and Air Force.

The Air Force said that Rawat, who had previously served as India's Chief of Army Staff, was traveling in an Mi-17V5 helicopter.

"An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident," the Air Force said in a tweet.

"Gen. Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier," Prime Minister Modi tweeted.

"A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernizing our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply."

He added: "As India’s first CDS, Gen. Rawat worked on diverse aspects relating to our armed forces including defense reforms. He brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service."

"The nation has lost one of its bravest sons," tweeted Indian President Rashtrapati Bhavan.

"His four decades of selfless service to the motherland was marked by exceptional gallantry and heroism."

The president added that "It’s deeply painful for me to learn of the loss of lives in the chopper crash. I join the fellow citizens in paying tributes to each of those who died while performing their duty. My heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families."

The US Embassy in India released an official statement on Rawat's death, expressing condolences to the families of those who perished in the helicopter crash.

"[Rawat] was a strong friend and partner of the United States, overseeing a major expansion of India’s defense cooperation with the US military," the embassy stated. "In September, he spent five days traveling throughout the United States as part of a counterpart visit with General Mark Milley to discuss military developments and opportunities to enhance our cooperation with like-minded countries. His legacy will continue on."

In a statement on behalf of Israel's defense establishment, Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued his condolences for the death of Rawat and the others in the crash.

"General Rawat was a partner of the IDF and the defense establishment, and contributed greatly to the strengthening of security relations between the two countries and was even expected to visit Israel soon," Gantz wrote. "May his memory and the memory of all those who perished be blessed."

IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Aviv Kohavi expressed his condolences as well.

"The IDF forged important partnerships with the Indian Army under Gen. Rawat's tenure, which contributes to regional security and will continue to strengthen and deepen," Kohavi said in a statement.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett expressed his condolences on Wednesday evening, tweeting, "My thoughts & prayers are with the families of those who perished in the tragic helicopter crash in India. May their souls rest in peace."

"General Bipin Rawat was a true leader & true friend of Israel," added Bennett. "Much strength to [Narendra Modi] & the Indian people at this difficult time."

"On behalf of the people of Israel, I extend my deepest condolences to the people and government of India on the loss of Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and the 11 other military personnel lost in today's tragic accident," Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted, following an earlier statement written in Hindi.

"I was deeply saddened to learn about the deadly helicopter crash that killed India's Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others in Tamil Nadu," tweeted Israeli opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

"My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. May they rest in peace."

"Heartaching to learn of helicopter crash in India, claiming 13 precious lives, including the Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat and [his] wife," Buthan's Prime Minister Lotay Tshering tweeted.

"[The] people of Bhutan and I offer prayers for India and the bereaved families. May you find [the] strength to see through the tragedy."

The Pakistani Armed Forces spokesperson also offered their condolences on the "tragic death" of Rawat, his wife and all the others in the helicopter.