India's Chief of Defense Staff Bipin Rawat and his wife were among the 13 people killed in a helicopter crash in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, the air force said, with a government minister at the scene saying at least seven people were dead.
"With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs. Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident," the Indian Air Force said on Twitter.
The 63-year-old was traveling with his wife and 12 others in a Russian-made Mi-17 chopper that "met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu," the air force said earlier.
Videos broadcast on Indian news channels showed a fiery wreck at the crash site in a densely forested area near a college in the Nilgiris district.
Media reports said the chopper took off from Sulur Air Force Station on Wednesday afternoon and that some passengers had been taken to hospitals for treatment.
Rawat was headed to the Defence Services Staff College from the nearby Sulur air force base in Coimbatore, and the helicopter was already making its descent.
It came down about 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the nearest road, forcing emergency workers to trek to the accident site, another fire official told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
Rawat comes from a military family with several generations having served in the Indian Armed Forces.
The general joined the army as a second lieutenant in 1978 and served for four decades, having commanded forces in Indian-administered Kashmir and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China. He is credited with reducing the insurgency on India's northeastern frontier and supervising a cross-border counter-insurgency operation into neighboring Myanmar.
Rawat was chief of the 1.3 million-strong army from 2017 to 2019 before his elevation to defense services chief, which analysts said, was tasked with improving integration between the army, navy and air force.
He is considered close to the Modi government and turned heads last month when he reportedly made an approving reference to "lynching terrorists" in the contested territory of Kashmir.
The Mi-17 helicopter, which first entered service in the 1970s and is widely used by defense services around the world, has been involved in several accidents over the years.
Fourteen people died in a crash last month when an Azerbaijani military Mi-17 chopper went down during a training flight. In 2019, four Indonesian soldiers were killed and five others wounded in central Java in another training accident involving the aircraft.
The Indian Air Force said an inquiry was underway into Wednesday's accident.
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