Soldier found alive 6 days after Indian avalanche

Hanamanthappa Koppad was pulled alive from 35ft of snow. Picture: Contributed
Hanamanthappa Koppad was pulled alive from 35ft of snow. Picture: Contributed
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An Indian soldier buried by an avalanche for six days in the Himalayan region of Kashmir has been found alive and was pulled from the snow, along with the bodies of nine other soldiers, officials have said.

The avalanche slammed into an Indian army post last Wednesday and trapped the ten soldiers on the northern end of Siachen glacier, the highest point along the heavily militarised line of control between India and Pakistan. After a day of searching for survivors, the army had said that the chance of finding any was “very remote.”

However, soldier Hanamanthappa Koppad was pulled up from under at least 11 metres (35ft) of snow in a conscious but disoriented state, the Indian army announced.

“He was severely dehydrated, hypothermic, hypoxic, hypoglycemic and in shock,” the statement said. After being treated with warm intravenous fluids and oxygen, he was flown to an army hospital in New Delhi where he remained in critical condition on Tuesday, comatose and still suffering from shock, pneumonia as well as liver and kidney dysfunction.

The army said the next day or two would be critical to his recovery.

“We hope the miracle continues,” commander Lieutenant General D Hooda said, noting it was extremely rare for a person to survive so long buried under snow and ice.

Lt-Gen Hooda said it appeared the soldier had been buried along with a tent, which may have created an air pocket that allowed him to breathe under the snow. When found on Monday, “his oxygen levels seemed OK, and his heartbeat was there.”

Prime minister Narendra Modi visited the unconscious soldier in hospital on Tuesday.

Avalanches and landslides are common in Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan and divided between them, making the military patrols at the 5,800m (19,000ft) glacier particularly dangerous. More Indian and Pakistani troops have died from the gruelling conditions than from hostile fire.

Last month, four Indian soldiers were killed by an avalanche while on foot patrol in the same region. In 2012, an avalanche on the Pakistan part of the glacier killed 140 people, including 129 soldiers.

Lt-Gen Hooda described last week’s avalanche as “massive,” adding that “an entire mountain of rock-solid snow” measuring about half a square mile “fell on the post and buried it.”

The rescue and recovery operation was also difficult “under extremely hostile weather conditions,” he said.