The pieces of a 45-year-old mystery air crash are finally being put back together. A frayed identity card bearing the name Arjun Singh may help the Indian Air Force recover more wreckage of its AN-12 aircraft that crashed into the snow-capped peaks of Lahaul valley in Himachal Pradesh in 1968.
A group of trekkers from a local mountaineering institute has found the identity card of Arjun Singh, aircraft wreckage, shoes and clothes spread over a glaciated area at an altitude of 17,500 feet near the Chandrabhaga peak.
Trekker and expedition leader Dinanath Thakur on Wednesday said that during the descent of the majestic 20,000-foot high Chandrabhaga peak, they found the debris of an aircraft scattered over Dakka Glacier on July 15.
"We have handed over the identity card to sub-divisional magistrate on returning to Manali," he added. The other two members of the expedition were Kamlesh Kumar and Kuber Kumar. The AN-12 aircraft of the IAF had taken off from Chandigarh on February 7, 1968, on a routine logistics sortie with 102 people on board to Leh in Jammu and Kashmir.
The aircraft, according to the IAF, was not able to negotiate the bad weather en-route and hit the Chandrabhaga peak. There were no survivors of the crash. It was only in July 2003 that an expedition from the Atal Bihari Vajpayee Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports in Manali discovered the wreckage site. The team also found the mortal remains and documents of pioneer Beli Ram. His remains were moved to his native village in Akhnoor and cremated with full military honours.
Subsequently, the Indian Army has launched expeditions every summer to recover bodies of the lost soldiers. Code-named Operation Punaruthan-III, an expedition of the army retrieved three bodies on August 9, 2007, near the Chandrabhaga peak. The cause of the crash is still a mystery as the black box (flight data recorder) has not been recovered.
Thakur, who is currently on another mountaineering expedition in Leh and is to return to Manali on Aug 8, said: "There are chances that the aircraft's major portion could be located in the glacier's southern portion where the debris was spotted." "It seemed that the glacier mass was thinned more this season compared to the previous years. This might help subsequent search parties of the army recover more human remains and other vital aircraft parts," he added.
Manali sub-divisional magistrate Balbir Thakur, who was given the identity card by the trekkers, on Wednesday handed it over to Col Arun Kainthla, administrative commandant posted at army transit camp at Palchan, nine kilometres from here.