As India's Chief of Defense Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat was among 13 killed in a helicopter crash in southern Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, condolences have poured in over the death of the top general.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Rawat was an "outstanding soldier" and as the country's first Chief of Defense Staff, Rawat "worked on diverse aspects relating to our armed forces including defense reforms."
"A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernizing our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply," Modi wrote on Twitter, adding that "India will never forget his exceptional service."
Rawat on Wednesday was en route to defense services staff college, Wellington in Tamil Nadu to address the faculty and student officers, when the incident happened near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu, according to Indian Air Force.
A total of 14 people including Rawat and his wife were on board the chopper. While 13 people were killed including Rawat and his wife, a senior Air Force officer injured in the incident is currently under treatment at Wellington’s military hospital.
"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 Wednesday evening.
An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident by the Air Force.
Indian Defense Minister Rajnath Singh said Rawat's "untimely death is an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country."
"General Rawat had served the country with exceptional courage and diligence. As the first Chief of Defence Staff he had prepared plans for jointness of our Armed Forces," he wrote on Twitter. "Praying for the speedy recovery of Gp Capt Varun Singh, who is currently under treatment at the Military Hospital, Wellington."
Indian President Ram Nath Kovind said that nation has lost one of its bravest sons. "His four decades of selfless service to the motherland was marked by exceptional gallantry and heroism. My condolences to his family," he said.
Video footage on Indian news channels earlier Wednesday showed rescue workers dousing the chopper’s wreckage in a forested area.
S.P. Amrith, a senior administrative official in the state's Nilgiris district, where the crash took place, told Anadolu Agency that the rescue operation is over.
Rawat was appointed India's first chief of defense staff in 2019, a position established for coordination between the country's three armed services – the army, navy, and air force.