General Rawat Chopper Crash: Inquiry Points Towards Pilot Error

The tri-service court of inquiry into the helicopter crash which killed the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and 13 others on December 8 has reportedly identified air crew error as the cause of the accident.  

A detailed presentation on the findings of the report was made to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on January 5 in New Delhi. Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari was present at the briefing.  

The court of inquiry was headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, the IAF’s senior-most helicopter pilot and Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the IAF Training Command. From his earlier tenure as Director-General Flight Safety and Inspection, the Air Marshal has experience of inquiring into several accidents.  

While no official statement on the finalisation of the inquiry report has been made by the Ministry of Defence, the cause of the catastrophic accident, as established by the court of inquiry, is being reported as Controlled Flight Into Terrain (CFIT), a terminology to describe a crash due to air crew disorientation while ruling out technical failure.  

The Mi-17V5 helicopter flying General Rawat took off from the Sulur airbase in Tamil Nadu at 11:48 am for Wellington on December 8. It crashed minutes before its scheduled landing time of 12:15 pm in the Coonoor hills without giving any distress call. Reports and a video shot by tourists suggest that the chopper disappeared into a thick fog blanket before an explosion. CFIT is a common cause for air crashes in poor visibility conditions in hilly areas.  

The ill-fated Mi-17V5 was a standard-fit helicopter without any special avionics or equipment for VVIP travel.  

The inquiry is also reported to have made recommendations for a protocol for VVIP flying on helicopters.  


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