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Hope fading for snow-buried Pak soldiers

world Updated: Apr 10, 2012 00:22 IST

Hopes were fading fast for finding any surviors buried under tonnes of ice as Pakistani military rescuers were hampered by fresh snowfall and bad weather in an increasingly desperate search for 139 people, mostly soldiers, hit by an avalanche in Siachen sector, close to the Indian border.

Almost 52 hours after mounds of snow came crushing down on to the remote Battalion headquarters of the army high up in Karakoram, rescuers were yet to come across any survivors or any bodies despite pressing sniffer dogs and specialised snow clearing equipment.

An eight-member team of US experts, which arrived in Pakistan from Afghanistan on Sunday to help in the rescue efforts, was unable to travel to Gyari, the site of the accident, this morning due to bad weather.

The US Embassy spokesman said authorities were standing by to provide any assistance need by their Pakistani counterparts.

Daytime temperature dipped to minus 15 degrees Celsius following heavy snowfall in the region where the avalanche occurred on Saturday, and the rescuers were hampered by the extreme weather conditions.

Officials said over 200 personnel were involved in the search for 139 people, including 124 soldiers, who were buried under up to 80 feet of snow when the avalanche slammed into a battalion headquarters at Gyari near Skardu.

Search and rescue teams were using sniffer dogs and heavy machinery but were finding it difficult to dig through the snow, media reports said.

Experts said the chances of finding survivors over 48 hours after the incident were slim.

The army camp was engulfed by the snow between 0500 to 0600 when most of the soldiers were sleeping when they were hit by an estimated avalanche 1000 metres and 25 metres wide, a military statement said. Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said on Sunday that it was unclear whether any of the people buried under the snow were still alive.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office welcomed India's offer of assistance in the rescue operation, TV news channels reported.

There was no official word on whether the offer would be accepted.

Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the site on Sunday to supervise rescue operations.

Kayani said an avalanche of such a magnitude was "unprecedented" and that the army and air force had mobilised all available resources for the rescue operation.

He instructed commanders to "optimally utilise all available resources" and "leave no stone unturned" to find the trapped people.

The "calamity, in no way, should affect the morale of the troops defending the motherland at the highest battlefield", Kayani was quoted as saying in a statement.

The headquarters at Gyari is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to remote outposts in the Siachen sector.

Meanwhile, people across Pakistan offered special prayers for the trapped soldiers and civilians.

In Islamabad, the staff of the Federal Government Polyclinic offered prayers for the missing soldiers.

Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in standoff on Siachen since 1984.

However, the guns have largely been silent since late 2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir.

With soldiers deployed at heights of up to 20,000 feet at temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius, more troops on both sides have died due to adverse weather than combat on the world's highest and coldest battlefield.