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 India's defense chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 others are among the casualties in a helicopter crash in the south of India, the Indian Air Force confirmed in a tweet, Wednesday.

"With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that Gen Bipin Rawat, Mrs. Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons on board have died in the unfortunate accident," the Indian Air Force said on Twitter.  

According to witnesses at a local news, the helicopter is in flames as local residents tried to douse it.

The 63-year-old chief of defense staff was traveling in a Russian-made Mi-17V5 chopper that "met with an accident today near Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, the Indian Air Force said.

"An Inquiry has been ordered to ascertain the cause of the accident," it added. 

Rawat and his wife, along with some officers, were on board the helicopter headed to the army's defense services college, a senior army officer said. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said of the general: "A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernizing our armed forces and security apparatus," adding: “India will never forget his exceptional service.”

"As India's first CDS, Gen Rawat worked on diverse aspects relating to our armed forces including defence reforms. He brought with him a rich experience of serving in the Army. India will never forget his exceptional service," Modi said on Twitter.

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