India’s defense chief General Bipin Rawat and his wife were among 13 people killed in a helicopter crash on Wednesday, the air force said.
“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 air force said on Twitter.
The 63-year-old chief of defense staff was traveling in a Russian-made Mi-17V5 chopper that “met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu,” the Indian Air Force said.
Rawat is India’s first chief of defense staff, a position that the Indian government established in 2019, and is seen as close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
He and his wife were on board along with other officers and were headed to the Defence Services Staff College, a senior army officer told AFP.
Videos broadcast on Indian news channels showed a fiery wreck at the crash site in a densely forested area near the college in 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 comes from a military family with several generations having served in the Indian armed forces.
The general, who has four decades of service behind him, has commanded forces in Indian-administered Kashmir and along the Line of Actual Control bordering China.
He is credited with reducing insurgency on India’s northeastern frontier and supervised a cross-border counter-insurgency operation into neighboring Myanmar.
The air force said an inquiry was underway into the accident.