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Gen. Bipin Rawat (1958-2021)

Chopper accidents: Grim reminders from the past

Six persons were killed in 1963 crash, four in 1997 and 12 in 2010

December 08, 2021 10:46 pm | Updated December 09, 2021 01:30 am IST - Chennai

Firemen and rescue workers stand next to the debris of an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter crash site in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, on December 8, 2021.

Firemen and rescue workers stand next to the debris of an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter crash site in Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, on December 8, 2021.

It is not the first time a high ranking officer of the Defence Services has died in an air crash in India.

Just like the latest helicopter crash near Coonoor on Wednesday in which Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other members of the armed forces died, the November 1963 accident near Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir caught the attention of the nation.

Fifty-eight years ago, five senior officers of the Army and Air Force were killed when a helicopter of the Air Force crashed in Gulpur near Poonch in Jammu and Kashmir around noon on November 22, 1963, according to material provided by The Hindu Archives.

A news item, published by The Hindu on the front page of November 23, 1963, stated that Lt. Gen. Daulat Singh, General Officer Commanding in Chief, Western Command; Air Vice-Marshal E.W. Pinto, Air Officer Commanding, Western Air Command; Lt. General Bikram Singh, Corps Commander, Western Command; Major-General N.K.D. Nanavati and Brigadier Siri Ram Uberoi, were the five officers who were on their way to outposts near Poonch. Flt. Lt. S.S. Sodhi, the pilot of the ill-fated helicopter, also died in the crash.

At that time too, Parliament was in session. As soon as the news was out, the then Defence Minister Y.B. Chavan informed the Lok Sabha of the accident. Five days later, Chavan pointed out that though two helicopters were available in Poonch, the situation was that they could not simultaneously reach the place of inspection. He added that though the Army had standing instructions issued in March 1953, restricting the number of persons who could travel in a particular aircraft, it was decided in late 1954 not to lay down any “hard and fast rules” in the matter. Three months later, the court of inquiry, which went into the crash, attributed the accident to the helicopter hitting telephone wires.

Two accidents in Tawang

Another accident involving a high dignitary was the one in the Lungar sector, Tawang district of Arunchal Pradesh, on November 14, 1997 in which the then Union Minister of State for Defence, N.V.N. Somu, and three members of the forces including a Major General died. Somu was also the president of The Hindu Office and National Press Employees Union since 1969.

The wreckage of the helicopter and the bodies of the four victims were found at an altitude of more than 4,000 metres in a snow-bound area.

Twenty-three years later, an Indian Air Force MI-17 helicopter crashed at Bomdir near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, killing 12 defence personnel on board including an Army official of the rank of lieutenant colonel.

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