TV visuals showed the badly damaged chopper in flames, possibly under the impact of the crash
Coonoor: 13 out of the 14 on board the fatal Indian Air Force Mi-17V5 helicopter which crashed near Tamil Nadu's Coonoor have died, news agency ANI quoted sources as saying.
The IAF helicopter, with Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat on board, had crashed reportedly due to low visibility owing to foggy conditions.
However, there was no immediate information on the condition of Gen Rawat, even as the IAF said a Court of Inquiry has been ordered into the accident, involving a Mi-17VH chopper that took off from the Sulur IAF Station in nearby Coimbatore.
TV visuals showed the badly damaged chopper in flames, possibly under the impact of the crash. Apparently, a major tragedy was averted as the helicopter fell at some distance away from a human habitation, averting possible mass casualties.
The accident site was a scene of despair with trees being reduced to broken pieces under the impact of the crash, flames from the chopper engulfing the wooden logs resulting in billowing smoke and personnel scurrying to douse the fire, including using buckets and water hose. What seemed to be some charred bodies were also seen lying around.
The mangled and burnt remains of the ill-fated IAF chopper were strewn along the site, even as rescue services personnel were seen carrying bodies in stretchers to be transported through waiting ambulances.
The accident site remained out of bounds for civilians.
Official sources in New Delhi said all the injured people on board the helicopter had been evacuated from the spot of the accident.
The helicopter, carrying a few senior officials, was on its way from Sulur in Coimbatore to DSC in Wellington where Rawat, along with Chief of Army Staff MM Naravane, was slated to participate in an event later, the sources added.
Rescue personnel, along with Army men, were seen involved in clearing the area.
Medical teams from nearby Coimbatore, including burns specialists, have also been sent to Coonoor to treat the injured.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M K Stalin will visit Coonoor and will leave for Coimbatore by air later in the day.
Rawat is India's first chief of defence staff, a position that the Indian government established in 2019, and is seen as close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
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 neighbouring Myanmar.