NEW DELHI, Dec 8: India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat (63), died along with his wife and 11 others, when their IAF Mi-17 crashed in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday.
This was the first fatality of a top defence official in nearly three decades – and has curious coincidences with the previous incident.
The previous incident of a senior Indian Army officer dying in a helicopter crash occurred in 1993 – and it also involved an Mi-17 helicopter, bad weather and the officer being accompanied by his wife.
Eastern Command chief, Lt Gen Jameel Mahmood, died in a helicopter crash in May 1993, while on a visit to Sikkim.
His wife, Military Assistant Col M.N. Ahmed, Lt Lakshman Tyagi, orderly Naik G. Thyagarajan, his personal bodyguard Havildar S. Vasudevan, and the IAF crew were also killed.
Commissioned into the Artillery in 1959, Mahmood commanded a platoon in Sikkim during the 1962 India-China war, and was conferred the Yudh Seva Medal. He also saw action during the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan war, held a series of key command (including of a brigade, infantry division, and the Srinagar-headquartered Chinar Corps), staff and instructional posts, including at the IMA, and the Army War College.
He became the Eastern Command chief in October 1992.
Three decades back, the Indian Army and Air Force lost a host of senior officials when an IAF Alouette chopper crashed near Poonch in November 1963.
Western Command chief, Lt Gen Daulat Singh, Western Air Command chief, Air Vice Marshal Erlic Pinto, Chinar Corps Commander, Lt Gen Bikram Singh, 25 Infantry Division chief, Maj Gen N.K.D. Nanavati, and 93 Brigade chief, Brigadier S.R. Oberoi, as well as pilot, Flight Lt S.S. Sodhi, were killed in the crash.
However, the miraculous survival of all passengers of an IAF de Havilland Devon transport aircraft crash near Lucknow in February 1952 was a godsend to the Indian Army.
On board were future Army chiefs – Lt Gen S.M. Shrinagesh and Major Gen K.S. Thimayya — as well as Major Gen S.P.P. Thorat, later Eastern Command chief, Maj Gen Sardanand Singh, Major Gen Mohinder Singh Chopra and Brig Ajaib Singh.
Lt Gen Shrinagesh’s ADC had to give up his seat at the last moment to accommodate Brig Singh. The person was K. Sundarji, who would go on to head the Indian Army in his turn.