The chopper carrying Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others had crashed into the Nilgiris yesterday 20 minutes after take-off, just seven minutes before it was supposed to land. The Air Force Mi-17V-5 helicopter took off from Sulur Air Base at 11.48 am and was expected to land by 12.15 pm at Wellington. The last radio contact with the chopper took place at 12.08 pm, sources told NDTV.
General Rawat was to visit the Defence Services Staff College to interact with the student Officers.
The Air Traffic Control at Sulur Air Base lost contact with the helicopter at approximately 12:08 pm, sources said.
Soon after, a few locals spotted a fire in the forest near Coonoor and rushed to the spot to find the wreckage of the military helicopter. An unverified footage has also emerged that shows the chopper flying in the area, flying low and then disappearing into the mist.
Speaking to NDTV yesterday, Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major — former chief of the Indian Air Force who inducted the Mi-17V-5 chopper, expressed surprise at what could have gone wrong in such a short time.
“The flight time from Sulur to Wellington is only 20 to 25 minutes. What could have gone wrong in such a short flight duration is very difficult to determine,” the Air Chief Marshal told NDTV.
Several other retired Armed forces officers too, were perplexed over the crash of the chopper which has been a workhorse of the Air Force and is considered extremely reliable.
The “black box” or the flight data recorder from the crashed chopper has been recovered and is expected to indicate the reason of the crash, Union Defence Minister Rajnath Singh told Parliament earlier today.
The data will be examined as part of the high-level, tri-services inquiry ordered by the Air Force. The inquiry will be led Air Marshal Manvendra Singh.
Thirteen of the 14 occupants of the crash had died. Their last rites will take place tomorrow with full military honours.
The sole survivor of the crash, Group Captain Varun Singh, who sustained severe burn injuries, was shifted from the military hospital in Wellington to the Air Force’s Command Hospital in Bengaluru. Officials said he is in a critical condition, but remains stable.