Belfast Telegraph

Home News World

Search for 135 missing in avalanche

Rescue workers have used bulldozers to dig through huge banks of snow following a massive avalanche which engulfed a military complex and buried at least 135 people, most of them soldiers, in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border.

More than 24 hours after the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier, no bodies have yet been recovered, said military officials.

The army said 240 troops and civilians worked at the scene with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, some of which was flown in on military aircraft. They struggled to dig through some 80f of snow, boulders, mud and slush that buried the rear headquarters building in the Gayari sector on Saturday morning.

Pakistani army chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the site to supervise rescue operations. At least 124 soldiers from the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion and 11 civilian contractors are missing.

The accident in Siachen, which is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan, highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

The thousands of soldiers from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been posted at elevations of up to 22ft and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a ceasefire in 2003.

The headquarters in Gayari, situated at around 15ft, is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to other more remote outposts in the sector. It is situated in a valley between two high mountains, close to a military hospital, according to an officer who was stationed there in 2003.

More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved there.

Conflict there began in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the 49-mile long glacier, fearing Pakistan wanted to claim the territory. Pakistan also deployed its troops. Both armies remain entrenched despite the ceasefire, costing the poverty-stricken countries many millions of dollars each year.

Pakistan and India have fought three wars since the partition of the subcontinent on independence from Britain in 1947. Two of the wars have been over Kashmir, which both claim in its entirety.


From Belfast Telegraph