Seventeen armymen were killed in an avalanche that buried their training camp near the ski town of Gulmarg in Kashmir on Monday. See map
The soldiers, from the army’s High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS), were setting up a winter warfare camp at Khilanmarg, 8 km uphill from Gulmarg, when the avalanche struck. The dead included an officer, Lt Prateek (one name only).
“The rescue operation is off. We’ve accounted for all the people in the area. We lost 17 soldiers; 17 were injured. No one is missing,” said army spokesman Lt Col J.S. Brar in Srinagar, 70 km from Gulmarg. More than 60 soldiers were rescued.
Nasir Alam Wani, Minister of State for Tourism, said the area was under military use and hence, all civilians and tourists were safe.
The jawans were on the ridge face when the avalanche stuck at 11 a.m., said Gulmarg Development Authority CEO Javed Bakshi, who was present at the site. "The camp was destroyed. Both army and civil rescue teams worked in harsh conditions to rescue the trapped jawans.”
Lt Col Brar said 350 soldiers set out from HAWS in Gulmarg and reached Khilanmarg (height 10,000 feet). “However, only 80 were trapped in the snow,” he said.
The Snow Avalanche Study Establishment had on Sunday issued an avalanche warning. Kilanmarg was declared medium-risk.
“There were warnings but the army has to be trained to work in all conditions and that was the reason for the training,” Lt Col Brar said.
Gulmarg had received heavy snow in the last 48 hours and Khilanmarg was under more than 7 feet of snow.
“Such weather is likely to continue till February 12 and avalanches can be expected. In the next 24 hours, heavy snowfall is expected in Kashmir, specifically the higher reaches,” said Sonam Lotus, director, Meteorological Department, Kashmir.