A day after India’s Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat and his wife were among 13 killed in a helicopter crash in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, the country’s defense minister told parliament on Thursday that the aircraft lost contact with air traffic control shortly before it was scheduled to land.

“The Air Force Mi-17V5 helicopter took off from Sulur Air Base at 11.48 a.m. (0618GMT) yesterday and was expected to land at Wellington by 12.15 p.m. Air traffic control at Sulur Air Base lost contact with the helicopter at approximately 12.08 p.m.,” Rajnath Singh said, briefing the parliament.

Rawat, 63, who also served as army chief, was traveling in the Russian-made Mi-17V5 helicopter en route to the defense services staff college in Wellington in Tamil Nadu to address faculty and student officers, when the incident happened near the Coonoor area, according to the Indian Air Force.

A total of 14 people, including Rawat and his wife, were on board the chopper. While 13 people were killed including Rawat and his wife, a senior Air Force officer injured in the incident is currently receiving treatment at the military hospital in Wellington.

Singh said several locals had spotted a fire in the forest near Coonoor and rushed to the spot, where they “observed the wreckage of a military helicopter engulfed in flames.”

He said the deceased also included Rawat’s Defense Adviser Brigadier Lakhbinder Singh Lidder, Staff Officer Lt. Col. Harjinder Singh, and nine other armed forces personnel, including the Air Force helicopter crew.

The defense minister also said Air Force Group Captain Varun Singh, the lone survivor of the crash was “on life support” and that all efforts “are being made to save his life.”

Singh also noted that the Air Force ordered a tri-service inquiry into the incident, headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh. “The inquiry team reached Wellington yesterday itself and started the investigation,” he said.​​​​​​​

He added that soon after the incident, Indian Air Force Chief VR Chaudhari was sent to the spot on Wednesday.

On Thursday morning, television footage was aired showing Chaudhari reaching the crash site. Also, the bodies of the victims were brought to the Madras Regimental Center from the military hospital in Wellington for a wreath-laying ceremony.

Singh said the bodies of all the victims would be brought to the national capital Delhi by Thursday evening. “The chief of defense staff will be cremated with full military honors,” he said.

Rawat was appointed India’s first chief of defense staff in 2019, a position established for coordination between the country’s three armed services — the army, navy, and air force.

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