Thousands of people stood shoulder to shoulder showering flower petals and raising emotional slogans as 13 ambulances carrying the coffins of Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 defence personnel made their way from Coonoor to the Sulur Air Force Base on Thursday afternoon. “Bharat Mata Ki Jai”, “Veera Vanakkam, Veera Vanakkam” (Salute to the brave ) and “Jai Hind”, the crowd kept shouting along the over 50-km route from Mettupalayam to Sulur.
The mortal remains were airlifted to Delhi from Sulur.
All shops and businesses in the Nilgiris will remain closed from 6 a.m to 6 p.m. on Friday as a mark of respect to the victims of the IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter crash.
Benjamin Soundararajan, a 76-year-old veteran from Mettupalayam town at the foothills of the Nilgiris, was in deep sorrow since the news of the crash on Wednesday afternoon.
His grief deepened upon learning that not all veterans were allowed to pay respects at the Madras Regimental Centre (MRC), Wellington.
With no option left, Mr. Soundararajan, who retired as senior Havildar from MRC, waited on the side of the road to pay homage.
“He is yet to recover from the shock. He did not have proper food after hearing about the crash,” said the war veteran’s son B. Samuel.
Senthil Kumar, another resident of Mettupalayam, said people waited from 10 a.m. on the sides of the road. The convoy passed at 1.10 p.m. While many held the national flag, a few broke down.
The convoy later passed through Annur and Karumpathampatty towns where too people showered petals on it. Children who lined up on the sides of the road saluted as the convoy moved.
“I am unable to explain it [the loss of officers] in words. It was a very emotional moment as the vans carrying the mortal remains passed through my town after watching photos and videos of the crash in media,” said K.K. Mahalingam, a resident of Karumathampatty.
Barring nearly 30 km of the ghat section from Coonoor to Mettupalayam town where people stood at important junctions, thousands waited on the sides of the road up to the Air Force Station, Sulur, to bid their adieu.
A youth association had put up a huge banner with the photo of Gen. Bipin Rawat at Mettupalayam bus stand to pay homage.