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Indian defence chief General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons died on Wednesday when an army helicopter crashed near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, the Indian Air Force said.

The air force added that CDS Gen Bipin Rawat was on a visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington (Nilgiri Hills) to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course. "Around noon today [Wednesday], an IAF Mi 17 V5 helicopter with a crew of 4 members carrying the CDS and 9 other passengers met with a tragic accident near Coonoor, TN."

It added that Directing Staff at DSSC Gp Capt Varun Singh SC with injuries is currently under treatment at Military Hospital, Wellington.

Rawat was appointed as India's first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) by Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government in late 2019. The position was set-up with the aim of integrating India's three services — the Army, the Navy and the Air Force.

The Air Force said that Rawat, who had previously served as India's Chief of Army Staff, was traveling in an Mi-17V5 helicopter.

Video footage from Reuters partner ANI showed rescue workers dousing a steaming wreckage in a wooded area.

"An inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident," the Air Force said in a tweet.