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An Indian army helicopter carrying India’s topmost military official and his family has crashed in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.

Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat was travelling in an Mi-17V5 helicopter which crashed near Coonoor city.

It was not immediately known if Gen Rawat and his family were safe. Reports said there were 14 people on board.

District officials said four bodies had been recovered from the crash site and three injured were taken to hospital.

Visuals from the crash site showed thick plumes of smoke billowing from the mangled remains of the helicopter and local people were seen trying to put out the fire.

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The helicopter had just taken off from the army base in Sulur and was headed for Wellington town.

Those on board included Gen Rawat’s wife.

The Indian Air Force said it had ordered an investigation into the accident.

Gen Rawat, 63, was appointed India’s first-ever Chief of Defence Staff in January 2019.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is monitoring the situation and a meeting of senior officials is underway, news agency ANI reported.

Mr Singh has briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi about the crash and is due to address the parliament shortly where he is expected to provide more details, it added.

Although the Mi-17V5 is among the most sophisticated military transport helicopters, India’s ageing air force fleet is often blamed for a high number of air crashes.

In 2017, seven military personnel were killed in a crash in the north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The helicopter was on a training sortie.

A year before that, another of the helicopters had crashed immediately after take-off during a military drill in the northern state of Uttarakhand. No casualties were reported then.

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