Coonoor (TN): As many as 13 of the 14 occupants of the Indian Air Force helicopter, which had Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat among others on board, died in the tragic crash on Wednesday, a top district official said.
There was one survivor, a male, Nilgiris Collector SP Amrith told PTI.
“Thirteen of the 14 (occupants) have died. There is one male survivor,” he said without divulging details.
TV visuals showed the badly damaged chopper in flames, possibly under the impact of the crash. Apparently, a major tragedy was averted as the helicopter fell at some distance away from a human habitation, averting possible mass casualties.
The accident site was a scene of despair with trees being reduced to broken pieces under the impact of the crash, flames from the chopper engulfing the wooden logs resulting in billowing smoke and personnel scurrying to douse the fire, including using buckets and water hose. What seemed to be some charred bodies were also seen lying around.
The mangled and burnt remains of the ill-fated IAF chopper were strewn along the site, even as rescue services personnel were seen carrying bodies in stretchers to be transported through waiting ambulances.
The accident site remained out of bounds for civilians. Local eyewitnesses told a Tamil TV channel they could heard a loud noise, apparently of the crash, and later saw the chopper on fire, with some of the occupants suffering serious burn injuries.
Official sources in New Delhi said all the injured people on board the helicopter had been evacuated from the spot of the accident.
Rawat was on his way to the Defence Staff College in Wellington.
Official sources in Coimbatore said four bodies had been retrieved and three people rescued from under the debris of the helicopter which crashed in Katteri-Nanchappanchathram area near here in the hilly Nilgiris district.
The helicopter, carrying a few senior officials, was on its way from Sulur in Coimbatore to DSC in Wellington where Rawat, along with Chief of Army Staff MM Naravane, was slated to participate in an event later, the sources added.
The chopper crashed in the forest area, reportedly due to poor visibility following heavy fog, they added.
Rescue personnel, along with Army men, were seen involved in clearing the area.
Medical teams from nearby Coimbatore, including burns specialists, have also been sent to Coonoor to treat the injured. Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Stalin will visit Coonoor and will leave for Coimbatore by air later in the day.
In a tweet, he said “I am deeply shocked & disheartened on hearing the army chopper with CDS General Bipin Rawat and 13 others has met with an accident near Coonoor.”
“I’ve instructed the local administration to provide all the help needed in rescue operations even as I’m rushing to the spot,” he said.