Group Captain Varun Singh won the Shaurya Chakra in August

Group Captain Varun Singh is the sole survivor of the military helicopter crash that occurred this afternoon in Tamil Nadu, killing India's top military officer, General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and 11 others.

Group Captain Varun Singh is being treated for severe burn injuries at the military hospital in Wellington. He won the Shaurya Chakra in August for his courage in handling his aircraft after it was hit by major technical issues during a sortie last year. He landed his Tejas fighter safely despite the mid-air emergency.

The Tamil Nadu government has made special arrangements to treat the Group Captain at a hospital in Coimbatore, in case the Air Force decides it wants to move him there.

General Rawat, 63, was headed to the Defence College in Wellington in the Russian-made Mi-17 chopper, which crashed near its destination around noon.

"His untimely death is an irreparable loss to our Armed Forces and the country," Defence minister Rajnath Singh said on Twitter. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, "Gen Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernising our armed forces and security apparatus."

General Rawat was named India's first Chief of Defence Staff in 2019 and entrusted with improving the coordination between the army, the air force and the navy. Supervised by him, India conducted surgical strikes at a terror camp at Balakot in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir in retaliation for a major terror attack that left 40 paramilitary troops dead in Kashmir.

He was headed to the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) to address students and faculty from the nearby Sulur air force base in Coimbatore.

The chopper was already making its descent at the time of the crash.

It came down around 10 kilometres from the nearest main road, forcing emergency workers to trek to the accident site.