Helicopter crash: Sole survivor Varun Singh dies in hospital

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Group Captain Varun Singh, the only person to have survived the December 8 Mi-17V5 chopper crash in which 13 people including chief of defence staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat were killed, passed away on Wednesday morning after battling for life for a week.

The IAF (Indian Air Force) is deeply saddened to inform the passing away of brave heart Group Captain Varun Singh, who succumbed this morning to the injuries sustained in the helicopter accident on December 8, 2021. The IAF offers sincere condolences and stands firmly with the bereaved family,” the air force said in a statement on Twitter.

Singh passed away at the Air Force Command Hospital in Bengaluru.

Son of an army officer, Singh was awarded Shaurya Chakra earlier this year for displaying outstanding courage and presence of mind while handling a rare mid-air emergency involving a light combat aircraft (LCA) that he was flying last year.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted about Singh’s demise. “Group Captain Varun Singh served the nation with pride, valour and utmost professionalism. I am extremely anguished by his passing away. His rich service to the nation will never be forgotten. Condolences to his family and friends. Om Shanti,” the PM wrote.

Defence minister Rajnath Singh said he was pained beyond words to learn of the officer’s demise. “He was a true fighter who fought till his last breath. My thoughts and deepest condolences are with his family and friends. We stand firmly with the family, in this hour of grief,” the minister tweeted.

Congress leader Rahul extended his condolences to Singh’s family and friends. “This is a sad moment for the country. We all are with you in this grief,” he tweeted.

President Ram Nath Kovind conferred Shaurya Chakra, India’s third-highest peacetime gallantry medal, on Varun Singh on August 15, 2021. He was a wing commander at that time. On October 12, 2020, Singh was flying a test sortie on an LCA when an emergency developed due to the failure of cockpit pressurisation at high altitude.

It was an unprecedented failure. “There was rapid loss of altitude, with the aircraft pitching up and down viciously. Despite being in extreme physical and mental stress in an extreme life-threatening situation, he maintained exemplary composure and regained control of the aircraft, thereby exhibiting exceptional flying skills,” Singh’s citation said.

“He displayed extraordinary courage and skill to safely land the fighter aircraft. The pilot went beyond the call of duty and landed the aircraft taking calculated risks. This allowed an accurate analysis of the fault on the indigenously designed fighter and further institution of preventive measures against recurrence,” it added.

After being awarded Shaurya Chakra, Singh wrote an emotional letter to the principal of his alma mater, Army Public School in Chandimandir, thanking the school and his teachers for their mentorship in his formative years.

“I credit this prestigious award to all those I have been associated with over the years in school, the National Defence Academy, and thereafter the Indian Air Force, as I firmly believe that my actions that day were a result of the grooming and mentoring by my teachers, instructors and peers over the years.” Singh wrote.

He concluded his letter by writing an inspiring message for the schoolchildren. “It is okay to be mediocre… Whatever you work towards, be dedicated, do your best… Never lose hope, never think that you cannot be good at what you want to be,” Singh wrote.

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