India's defence chief General Bipin Rawat was on board a helicopter that crashed. AFP/Sajjad Hussain
MUMBAI - A helicopter carrying India's defence chief General Bipin Rawat crashed on Wednesday, the air force said, with a government minister at the scene saying at least seven people were dead.
Rawat is India's first chief of defence staff, a position that the government established in 2019, and is seen as close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 63-year-old was travelling with his wife and 12 others in a Russian-made Mi-17 chopper that "met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu", the Indian Air Force said.
It was unclear whether Rawat had survived the accident.
Footage from the scene showed a crowd of people trying to extinguish the fiery wreck with water buckets while a group of soldiers carried one of the passengers away on an improvised stretcher.
At least seven bodies had been recovered, Tamil Nadu forests minister K. Ramachandran said from the scene of the crash, according to the Times of India.
"Some of the injured have been taken to the hospital," a fire department official in Coonoor told AFP.
Rawat was headed to the Defence Services Staff College from the nearby Sulur air force base in Coimbatore and the helicopter was already making its descent.
It came down around 10 kilometres from the nearest road, forcing emergency workers to trek to the accident site, another fire official told AFP.
India's air force said an inquiry was underway into Wednesday's accident.