CDS General Bipin Rawat Dies In Chopper Crash: An Unthinkable National Tragedy, Our Salute!

This is unthinkable, even unpardonable. That the helicopter carrying the topmost military officer of India—the first ever Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) next only to the Supreme Commander of the India Army, the President of India—should crash in spite of the highest security being attached to the trip and the fool-proof technical checks being obviously carried out by the best of pilots before the trip. But it has happened still—a monumental national tragedy. CDS General Bipin Rawat, one of the bravest and the most decorated military officers of the country, had left his Delhi residence around 9 this morning and boarded a special Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft for Sulur Air Base near Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu along with his wife and seven others including senior military officers and security commandos. Arriving at Sulur around 11.30 AM he boarded a Mi-17V5 helicopter, supposedly the most advanced one being manufactured and delivered to India between 2013-16 by the Republic of Russia, with five more members including the crew joining the flight, making the total passengers in the chopper 14. The chopper took off around 11.45 AM for the Wellington Defence Services Staff College, Tamil Nadu.  


Just five minutes away from the destination the chopper crashed in Coonoor amid the forests of the mountainous district of Nilgiris around 12.20 PM. As the area was almost inaccessible the first ones to come to know of the crash were the local tribals who alerted the police. A lot of time thus was wasted before the actual rescue operations began. As per the tribal eye-witnesses shown by some news channels the helicopter reportedly hit a tree amid heavy fog and burst into flames before hitting the ground. The Tamil Nadu government had confirmed 5 fatalities, 2 badly burnt passengers taken to military hospitals and rescue operations going on for the rest. The ANI (Asian News International) had confirmed 13 fatalities out of the 14 quoting sources, the victims being identified through the DNA testing. No information about the condition of General Bipin Rawat and his wife was available till the last reports came in.


In sad reality, it is hoping against hope for the safety of the top General. Matters about high officials always involve a protocol and nothing is confirmed or announced in a hurry. The Defence Minister of India, Rajnath Singh, is the proper authority to make the final announcement after confirming fully with the Chief of the IAF. First, the Defence Minister briefed the Prime Minister Narendra Modi; then he consulted the IAF Chief who immediately rushed to the site of the tragic crash; and then the PM in consultation with the Defence Minister had called for a Cabinet meeting and a highest-level security session later in the evening. The Defence Minister then visited the residence of General Rawat in Delhi which was significant. The President of India, Ramnath Kovind, had also canceled his Mumbai event and rushed back to the capital. Dignitaries including the Army Chief and others have also been visiting the General’s residence. All these are pointers to an unthinkable tragedy.


The IAF has already ordered an inquiry into the crash. Many experts believe weather conditions have something to do with it. Tamil Nadu had witnessed unprecedented rains in the recent days and today it was reportedly very bad weather and heavy mist in the Coonoor hills. However, the emergency controls in the arguably most advanced chopper ever should have been able to maneuver and land safely, and the failure to do so with none other than the Chief of the military on board confounds one and all. The Defence Minister was to address the Parliament which is in session this evening, but it was then deferred to sometime tomorrow, possibly considering all aspects of a very sensitive incident involving national security and bilateral cum multilateral relations.


Unfortunately, over the last few decades we have been getting used to witness numerous chopper accidents involving various kinds of helicopters including the MIG and the Mi-Series types, most prominently; not only in India, but across various other countries too. Many dignitaries of the country including senior military officers, pilots, Chief Ministers, political leaders and others have either perished in those crashes or just survived. This leads us to question the very use of helicopters in modern times when other modes of air travel are easily available. Why not do away with helicopters for good?


The sad news has come. The IAF has confirmed just now that the brave General and Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat (1958-2021), his wife and 11 other officials have died in the crash. Our tributes and homage to all the martyrs, our condolences to the General's and other officers' families. The whole of India has been praying for the General’s safety. But God always has other plans. An irreparable loss for India. 


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