(Mathew C. Ninan, Director, Little Rock Indian School, Brahmavar, Udupi Dist)
Tragedies often occur in the most surreptitious manner and at the most unsuspecting moment, causing enormous agony and anguish to all concerned. It would shake us out of our stupor. The tragedy that struck the Chief of Defenses Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat and his entourage on 8th December on the placid hills of Coonoor, Nilgiris was one such catastrophe that shocked the entire nation.
General Bipin Rawat, the first CDS of our country
The sleepy hills of Coonoor heard a thunderous noise followed by a blaze when a helicopter suddenly hurtled down. A massive inferno went up from the verdant slopes, crushing down a few human beings in that process. People who rushed to the spot could not go anywhere near the debris of the helicopter that was still burning. They had no means to douse the fire that engulfed everything in its vicinity including the people inside the copter.
Local people rushed to the spot. They were seen bringing buckets of water to put out the fire. That showed how innocent people do their bit risking their own lives even in a desperate situation.
The bravehearts who lost their lives
GEN. BIPIN RAWAT WITH HIS WIFE MADHULIKA RAWAT
Brigadier L S Lidder Lt. Col Harjinder Singh Havaldar Satpal Lance Naik B S Teja
Lance Naik Vivek Kumar Naik Gursewak Singh Naik Jitender Kumar
Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan JWO Pradeep Arakkal JWO Rana Patap Das Squadron Leader Kuldeep Singh
Group Captain Varun Singh, the sole survivor
The scenes of charred bodies being carried in make-shift stretchers made of bed-sheets remain etched in our minds. All the fourteen people who flew in the copter were located and shifted to the military hospital in Wellington, the destination that eluded them.
Next day, 9th December the caskets of all the deceased were brought to the Defense Services Staff College in Wellington for a final farewell to the General and his staff who were to be their guests the previous day. The staff with their families and other dignitaries including the State CM paid their last respects to the departed souls.
What a paradox! The hosts turned mourners. Honoured guests became lifeless corpses. That is the stuff life is made of.
The road journey from Wellington to Sulur Air Force Station is some 85 kms, a road downhill. The cortege consisted of a dozen ambulances and a few trucks. The routes were lined up with people in all villages and towns on the way to bid farewell to the valiant soldiers who lost their lives.
The scenes at Sulur were incredible. People stood waiting all along the route in hot sun, in a disciplined manner, many with the tricolor in their hands, and tears in their eyes. It was a moving sight. The flower bedecked trucks entered the airbase to the tune of solemn music. Tamil Nadu was showing how sad they were that such a thing should have happened in their State.
The next day New Delhi witnessed similar scenes when the whole nation paid their homage to the General who was at the top of the entire military establishment. Numero uno of the defense services.
People who have known the General at close quarters spoke about his qualities of head and heart. How he was nonpareil in leadership. We have lost the finest of them all. Similarly about others who lost their lives.
The final journey of the General and his wife to the Brar Crematorium once again showed how somber and dignified the nation can be in moments such as this. In spite of the outpouring of shock and grief, the nation stood as one man to express its grief and anguish. The cremation took place with full military honours, including a 17-gun salute.
The day witnessed a final farewell to the General by all sections of people. In their millions, the nation watched the day with bated breath, physically and virtually. 2021 ends on a sad note with the passing of a General, his spouse and his staff in harness. We salute them, with pride and a tinge of sadness. We also pray for the sole survivor who is undergoing treatment at the Command Hospital in Bengaluru.
This event showed how the soldiers of our country can actually unite us on that one single emotion which is our love for our country, while our politicians persist in trying to divide us on many pretexts for their selfish ends. That’s the lesson we have to learn from this unspeakable tragedy. Better late than never!
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