They await details of circumstances that led to the incident

More than a month after the helicopter crash in which former Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and 13 others died, the Tamil Nadu police are awaiting details of the circumstances that led to the incident in Coonoor.

On December 8, 2021, an Mi-17 V5 helicopter crashed into a valley and exploded, killing Gen. Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, Brigadier Lakhwinder Singh Lidder and 11 others. The helicopter was flying from the Sulur Air Base in Coimbatore to the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. It came down a few minutes away from its destination.

On a complaint from Coonoor Village Administrative Officer C. Arul Rethna, the Upper Coonoor police registered a case under Section 174 (Unnatural death) of the Code of Criminal Procedure and launched an investigation.

In its preliminary findings, the Tri-Services Court of Inquiry ruled out any mechanical failure, sabotage or negligence. It held that the accident happened after the helicopter entered clouds owing to an unexpected change in weather, leading to the spatial disorientation of the pilot. But the investigators in the Tamil Nadu police are awaiting some crucial evidence to come to a conclusion.

According to a senior police official, the investigating officer had written to the Sulur Air Base, calling for a copy of the weather forecast given to the pilot. The police sought to know who had decided to go ahead with the flight, even if the forecast had indicated an inclement weather, and the details of the last radio communication between the Air Traffic Control and the pilot.

IMD Evidence

“We have asked for details that will make clear the circumstances in which the helicopter had to deviate from the flight path and crash into a valley. After India Meteorological Department officials said they had not issued any weather report for the flight, we have called for satellite images for that day [December 8, 2021], along with their opinion on the weather,” officials who preferred not to be quoted told The Hindu.

The Tamil Nadu police had arranged two convoys with Z-Plus security at the Sulur Air Base as well as at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. They had been fitted out with bulletproof vehicles for the VIP in case he chose to travel by road. Security personnel were also deployed along the contingency route in accordance with the protocol.

“We also conducted combing operations in the forest area abutting the helipad and made anti-sabotage checks along the line of landing. But to rule out sabotage and conclude the investigation, we need to analyse the Flight Data Recorder and the Cockpit Voice Recorder,” the official said.

The police have recorded the statements of several eyewitnesses who were among the first to visit the scene of crash at Nanjappachathram and help those battling for life reach the hospital. “Some issues need more clarity and confirmation from the competent authority, which is required for us to complete investigation and file a report in the court.”