The Indian Air Force (IAF) Mi-17V5 helicopter, carrying Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and 13 others, which crashed in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday, is a very robust helicopter and is used for VIP movement in nearly 60 countries across the world, according to defence expert Major General (Retd) P.K. Sehgal.

Sehgal said that the twin-engine Russia-made helicopter is “battle-proven”, and the Army has been using different variants of it for the last 25 to 30 years. Sehgal expressed grief over CDS Rawat’s demise in the accident and said, “The helicopter he was travelling in is a very safe helicopter. It is being used in 60 countries across the world, and is battle-proven, battle-tested.”

“From the last 25-30 years, different variants of this chopper have been used. This was the latest version, equipped with all kinds of technology, and is used for VIP movement,” he added.

The defence expert also said that only highly qualified pilots fly these choppers. Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan was the pilot of the chopper carrying Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and 13 others. Chauhan was the Commanding Officer of the 109 Helicopter Unit.

“The pilots who fly these aircraft are cleared by the board for VIP movement. Their theoretical knowledge is up to the point and as for their flying capabilities, they are trained to fly in bad weather,” Sehgal said.

Recalling his experience of flying in the same area as that of the accident, in a similar aircraft in 1971, Sehgal said, “There is a sudden change in weather in the Western Ghats; suddenly the visibility reduces to less than 5 meters, so much so that you cannot even see a plane next to yours, neither can you see trees or mountains there.”

“The terrain there does not allow the pilot to make an emergency landing; it is only by luck that one can find a place to land here,” he added.