A soldier who was miraculously rescued by army personnel nearly a week after he was buried under 35 feet of snow by a deadly avalanche on Jammu and Kashmir’s Siachen Glacier was battling for his life on Tuesday.
Army teams on Monday pulled out alive Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad who was trapped under a mound of snow for six days, an unparalleled feat on the planet’s most unforgiving battlefield.
The soldier was conscious when he was rescued, but later slipped into a coma with army sources saying he was in “extremely critical” condition.
He was among 10 soldiers of the 19 Madras Regiment who were presumed dead after a blinding slide struck their post in the western Himalayas on February 3. A day later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Manohar Parrikar took to Twitter to mourn the soldiers killed in the avalanche, ending all hopes of finding survivors.
A special operations C-130J Super Hercules plane of the IAF on Tuesday flew a dangerously-ill Koppad to Delhi where doctors are trying to save his life at the Army Research and Referral Hospital. The next 24 hours to 48 hours would be critical for the Siachen survivor, officials said.
Another miracle may be required given his condition, with a team of four super specialists monitoring his vital signs round the clock, a defence ministry source said. The immediate threat is from acute renal failure related to the crush syndrome expected when people are trapped in an avalanche for a long time. A small air pocket may have helped Koppad survive, said experts.
Modi, Parrikar and army chief General Dalbir Singh visited the hospital and met doctors taking care of the soldier.
“No words are enough to describe the endurance & indomitable spirit of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa. He is an outstanding soldier,” the PM tweeted, with the entire country praying for the 33-year-old soldier’s recovery.
His family in northern Karnataka’s Dharwad erupted in joy as the news of the dramatic rescue spread. Rajya Sabha MP Rajiv Chandrasekhar, well known for championing military causes, made arrangements for the family to fly to New Delhi and for its stay here. The army has also made arrangements for the family to stay in the hospital complex.
The dangerous rescue mission, carried out at a height of 20,500 feet, ended with Koppad being pulled out alive along with the bodies of his comrades. Five dead soldiers lay next to him. The men died living up to the motto of their regiment, Swadharme Nidhanam Shreyaha (It is a glory to die doing one’s duty).
The Madras Regiment soldiers were buried under snow after a massive wall of ice measuring 800ft by 400ft collapsed on their post. The ice debris covered an area spanning 1,000 metres by 800 metres, creating a nightmare for rescue teams racing against time to find survivors.
The operation involved more than 200 soldiers, avalanche rescue dogs, helicopters, rock drills, electrical saws and radars that can pick up metallic objects or heat signatures at a depth of 20m.
The men had to physically cut off ice blocks inch by inch as they went about looking for survivors. The dogs, Dot and Misha, came in for special praise from army officials.
“It is to the credit and dogged determination of the rescue teams which were working under extreme conditions that they have managed to extricate Koppad alive,” an army spokesperson said. He added that Koppad had shown “superhuman” courage by surviving for six days in temperatures ranging between minus 30 and minus 55 degrees. Rescue efforts were hampered by high intensity winds and blizzards.
But despite the efforts, none of the other nine soldiers could be rescued alive. The army identified the martyrs as Subedar Nagesha TT, Havildar Elumalai M, Lance Havildar S Kumar, Lance Naik Sudheesh B and Sepoys Mahesha PN, Ganesan G, Rama Moorthy, Mustaq Ahmed S and Sepoy nursing assistant Suryawanshi SV.
The Tamil Nadu government announced Rs 10 lakh each as compensation for the families of four army jawans from the state who were killed in the avalanche.