A soldier declared dead has been found alive under 25 feet (8 metres) of snow, six days after he was buried by an avalanche that hit his military post in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Rescue teams dug out Lance Naik Hanamanthappa in one of the world’s most unforgiving environments, at an altitude of 19,600 feet (6,000 m) on the Siachen Glacier, which India and Pakistan have fought over intermittently for almost three decades.
“We hope the miracle continues. Pray with us,” D.S. Hooda, an Indian army commander, said in a statement on Tuesday.
.Hooda, who heads the Indian Army’s northern command, called it a “miracle” as he described the huge challenges faced by the rescue team, operating at an altitude of 5,900 metres (19,600 feet).
“It was not a typical soft snow avalanche. It was like a wall of rock-hard ice,” he told AFP, describing how army rescuers used sniffer dogs and specialist radar to detect the buried soldiers.
“The effort went on day and night, except during two nights when blizzards hit the area.
Hanamanthappa has been rushed to hospital and the army said he remains in a critical condition.
The bodies of the other nine soldiers had now been retrieved, he said, declaring the rescue mission over.
Reports said the soldier was found buried under nearly 25 feet (eight metres) of snow in temperatures of minus 45 degrees Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit). He had survived thanks to an air pocket.
At the Siachen Glacier in the Karakorum range, thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops contest an area above 20,000 feet (6,096 m) where they must deal with altitude sickness, high winds, frostbite and temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius (minus 76 degrees Fahrenheit).
The inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.
An estimated 800 soldiers have died on the glacier since 1984, almost all of them from avalanches, landslides, frostbite, altitude sickness or heart failure rather than combat.
Nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan fought over Siachen in 1987. But guns on the glacier have largely fallen silent since a peace process began in 2004.