22 British students, teacher trapped in Ladakh mountains rescued

  • Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times, Srinagar
  • Updated: Aug 10, 2015 16:07 IST

It has all the making of a hit hollywood survivors saga. Twenty two young British girls and their French teacher (the only male member of the group) were trapped in the mountains of Ladakh for five days before being rescued.

The students from Holt School in Wokingham, Berkshire, were trekking when flashfloods hit Markha valley about 117 kilometers from Leh. The 29 member group-which included six local guides lost connection with the rest of the world as landslides triggered by incessant rains and series of cloudbursts on August 2, 2015 cut of the area between Markha and Sko.

It was only two days, that the local travel agency waiting for the group to arrive at another destination-Chilling, realised that they were missing.

"All communication lines were down, the group was carrying a satellite phone even that wasn't working," said P T Kungzang, owner of Pioneer Tours which had arranged the trek. "I got in touch with a village nearby as I was aware of the trek plan, the locals confirmed that they had seen some trekkers," he added.

Kungzang alerted the local administration and the British embassy. A rescue team was constituted by the local police and eight policemen including three from State Disaster Management Force set out for the mission on August 5.

"The road to the area wasn't motorable, so the team had to walk for eight hours before the group was located," said Padma Durjee, Munshi at police station Leh.

When the group was located, their supplies had almost dried up. "Most of the students were too weak to walk. So the rescue team send a message for airlifting," he added.

The exact location of the group was located through the satellite communication. The trekkers told the officials that they did see some helicopters a day before also but they were unable to locate them.

The evacuation began on thursday August 6, with the trekkers airlifted in two groups by the Indian Air Force.

On first day it was 10 students, as the night was approaching, the helicopters could not come back the same day for others. "The rest which included local staff were rescued the next day," he added.

“Braving adverse weather, IAF helicopters from Leh rescued 21 British Nationals and 1 French national on August 6 and 7 in a challenging casualty evacuation from high altitude in Ladakh,” Defence spokesman Northern Command said in a statement .

According to IAF statement all major rivers like Indus, Nubra, Shyok and their tributaries in Ladakh region were flowing above danger mark. "Road and telephone communications were cut off. The Air Force Station in Leh received an SOS to rescue a group of British citizens who were stranded in the Markha Valley with some members suffering from asthma, ‘Siachen Pioneers’, the premier IAF helicopter unit at Leh, was pressed into service," the spokesman added.

A spokesman for the school was quoted by international media saying everyone in the party was 'safe and well'. The same was reiterated by SP Leh Sunil Gupta. "All the students are safe. They will be leaving for Britain in a day or two," he said.

The students will be leaving in two batches starting Wednesday.

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