The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has confirmed persistent low clouds coupled with high humidity and visibility of 1-2 km at the site at Coonoor in Tamil Nadu where the Mi-17 V5 helicopter crashed and exploded into flames, killing Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, Brigadier Lakhwinder Singh Lidder and 11 other defence personnel on December 8, 2021.
Providing satellite images of the weather conditions on the day when the helicopter came down crashing into a valley, the IMD, in a communication to the Tamil Nadu police, said the humidity was hovering around 95% with wind speed of 05-10 knots at an altitude of 1.5 km calculated on the basis of numerical weather prediction model analysis.
Reply to questionnaire
Highly placed sources in the intelligence agencies said the IMD replied to a questionnaire sent by the Investigation Officer in the case calling for satellite images at the crash site and other weather-related information. The helicopter which took off from the Sulur Air Base in Coimbatore was flying to the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, but crashed minutes away from its destination.
The IMD report said the weather was partly cloudy with light rain at isolated places along the Western Ghats. The air temperature was in the range of 14-16 degree Celsius and no fog was reported by the part time observatory at Coonoor where only two observations were recorded daily.
Acting on a complaint lodged by Coonoor Village Administrative Officer C. Raul Retina, the Upper Coonoor police registered a case under Section 174 (unnatural death) of the Criminal Procedure Code.
Considering the sensitive nature of the incident, the Tamil Nadu police appointed an officer in the rank of Additional Superintendent of Police to investigate the case. While the police were probing all angles and even conducted combing operations in the vicinity of the crash site and line of landing, the prime suspicion was about bad weather since a video shot by some tourists showed the ill-fated chopper flying into clouds moments before it came down.
Satellite images sought
However, it came to light later that the IMD had no role in the helicopter flight plan prepared for General Rawat from the Sulur Air Base in Coimbatore to the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, and that the Indian Air Force relied on its own weather forecast system. After coming to know that neither was the IMD’s forecast called for, nor did the department issue any weather report in connection with the short flight, investigators formally wrote to the authorities concerned requesting for satellite images of the weather.
“We have also written to the Indian Air Force, Sulur Air Base, seeking a copy of the weather report, last radio communication etc. Besides the first responders who braved the intense fire and rescued the victims battling for life from the burning helicopter, police have recorded the statements of others who witnessed or claimed to have seen the last moments of the chopper’s flight,” a senior police official said.
In the event of inclement weather being predicted on that day, the police were trying to ascertain whose decision it was to fly the helicopter since the Tamil Nadu police had made alternative arrangements by road from the Sulur Air Base to Wellington with Z-Plus scale of security for the VIP, the official who preferred not to be quoted said.
The Tri-Services Court of Inquiry of the armed forces into the crash submitted its preliminary findings last month ruling out mechanical failure, sabotage or negligence and held that the accident was caused after the helicopter entered into clouds due to unexpected change in weather, leading to spatial disorientation of the pilot.