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A helicopter carrying India’s defence chief General Bipin Rawat crashed in the southern state of Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, the air force said.

The 63-year-old chief of defence staff was travelling in a Russian-made Mi-17V5 chopper that “met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu”, the Indian Air Force said on Twitter.

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.

He and his wife were on board along with other officers and were headed to the Defence Services Staff College, a senior army officer told AFP.

Videos broadcast on Indian news channels showed a fiery wreck at the crash site in a dense forested area near the college in Nilgiris district.

Media reports said the chopper took off from Sulur Air Force Station on Wednesday afternoon and that some passengers had been taken to hospitals for treatment.

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.

The air force said an inquiry was underway into the accident.

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