Updated: December 11, 2021 7:29:53 am
OFFICIALS at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in Wellington, Coonoor, waiting to receive Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat on the afternoon of December 8, describe panic giving way to despair, as news came in of the crash of the IAF chopper bringing him and other senior military officers.
The staff was first informed about the visit of the CDS to the DSSC for a lecture on December 4.
A senior IAF officer told The Indian Express that heavy security arrangements were in place for the visit, including the shutting of canteens. “The last time we had this security protocol was when the President came.”
The officer said, “The CDS was to address a gathering of 450 cadets and officers. It was a cadet interaction programme and usually the topics are the intricacies of national security measures. The address was to happen around 3 pm.”
Among the investigators at the spot is a team from the IAF, the officer said.
An Army officer who was to attend the lecture by General Rawat said, “The DSSC Commandant had reached the Coonoor helipad to receive the CDS. We were waiting to receive the CDS at the DSSC. Our base was in regular communication.”
Recalling how they heard of the crash, the officer said, “The civilians who stay near the crash site informed the police and fire departments. Within 15 minutes, defence personnel reached the spot.” He said the DSSC Commandant rushed a medical team and security to the spot.
Those rescued carried severe burns and injuries, the officer said, adding that they were moved by how selflessly civilians and police had brought them out of the wreckage. On Friday, the IAF distributed blankets to villagers involved in the rescue mission.
Officials at the Military Hospital Wellington refused to comment on the incident.
The entire Nilgiris district shut on Friday, with shops, restaurants and eateries also downing shutters, to pay their respects to General Rawat and the others who died, including his wife Madhulika.
Mohammad Kasim Seth, a farmer, said, he was among the first to reach the crash site. “I along with other locals identified the occupants. Initially, we found three people who had suffered burns and severe injuries. It was a moment, God forbid, that nobody should witness… When defence personnel arrived, we helped them carry the bodies. Three of the people were alive.”
Another villager, Shiva Kumar, said they tried dousing the fire, after reaching the site through thick bushes. “One of the injured men asked me for water. Later, when the defence personnel arrived, I realised he was the CDS. I told him the villagers would rescue him. I made a call to the Fire Department and police.”
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