Snow avalanche hits Khardung La; 10 trapped, 5 dead so far

Rescue operation at Khardung La on Friday. -Excelsior/Morup Stanzin
Rescue operation at Khardung La on Friday. -Excelsior/Morup Stanzin

Troops from Siachen, helicopters join rescue ops

Rajnath assures NDRF help, if needed

Sanjeev Pargal
JAMMU, Jan 18: Five labourers were killed and fate of an equal numbers was uncertain as two tippers and a Scorpio vehicle came under snow avalanche at Khardung La Top in Leh district, the world’s highest motorable pass located at the height of 17,852 feet from sea level, this morning when they had gone to fetch snow for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited for trial landing of its plane.
Army pressed its ‘Avalanche Panthers Teams’ from Siachen base camp and North Pullu besides Aviation helicopters while civil and police administration sent SDRF, police teams and other mountain experts for rescue operation but none of the persons trapped in the snow avalanche had been rescued alive till this evening when the search operations were suspended till tomorrow morning as only five bodies had been recovered.

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LAHDC Leh Chairman-cum-CEC Jamyang Tsering Namgayal told the Excelsior that two tippers and a Scorpio vehicle carrying 13 persons including 10 labourers had gone to Khardung La Top this morning to fetch snow for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which had to conduct trial landing of its plane on snow.
“When the labourers were filling snow in the tipper, avalanche suddenly struck them around 7 am today. All 10 labourers were trapped in the avalanche,” Namgayal said, adding that immediately Army, police, civil administration and SDRF teams were rushed to the spot to launch rescue operation.
The CEC Leh said he spoke to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Union Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), Dr Jitendra Singh, who assured that if required the NDRF teams would be rushed to Leh for rescue operations.
General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Fire and Fury Corps, headquartered at Leh and also known as 14 Corps, himself carried out aerial assessment of the site to monitor rescue operations and issued necessary instructions to the Army personnel.
Official sources said drivers of two tippers bearing registration numbers 1866 JK10 and 2261 JK10 identified as Sonam Tsering, a resident of Saspochey and Nawang Jigmet of Nang and driver of Scorpio No. 3849 JK10 identified as Chospel of Zanskar were safe.
After day long rescue operations by multiple agencies, five bodies were recovered under the avalanche till this evening and they were brought to Leh. All five dead as well as those trapped under the avalanche hailed from Zanskar area of Kargil district.
Five deceased have been identified as Norbo Tsering son of Tsering Motup R/o Tokhta, Zanskar, Thinles Spalzang son of Tsering Dorjay R/o Tokhta, Zanskar, Tsewang Tashi son of Lobzang Chombel R/o Sunni, Zanskar, Tsewang Tashi son of Sonam Tashi R/o Abram, Zanskar and Loolang Chombul son of Nawang Tharchin R/o Bakarchi, Zanskar.
Mangled pieces of one of the tippers were found on steep slope and avalanche had affected vast area, sources said, adding that avalanche struck when the labourers were digging snow to load it in the tippers.
According to sources, the ‘Run out Zone’ of the avalanche was approximately 1100 meters down the steep hill side, the rescue operations can take time. However, Army has assured the civil administration of complete support during the rescue operation.
“The Army Aviation helicopters were pressed into action to move highly trained avalanche rescue teams of the Army called ‘Avalanche Panthers Teams’ from Siachen base camp, North Pullu and South Pullu. These teams were equipped with specialized avalanche rescue equipment, medical equipment and avalanche rescue dogs, which were being utilized in search and rescue operations,” sources said, adding the rescue operations were suspended tonight in view of adverse weather conditions but will be resumed with the onset of dawn tomorrow.
Deputy Commissioner Leh, Avny Lavasa and SSP Leh Sargun Shukla were monitoring the rescue operations on the spot at Khardung La. In a joint statement, the two officers said five bodies have been shifted to SNM hospital in Leh and proceedings under Section 174 CrPC were initiated.
“All possible steps are being taken to recover the victims and rescue operations will resume at first light tomorrow,” they said.
Meanwhile, Governor Satya Pal Malik has expressed grief over the loss of precious lives due to snow avalanche at Khardung Lal and prayed for peace to the departed souls. He announced ex-gratia relief of Rs 5 lakh for next of kin of those killed in avalanche.
While condoling the deaths, Omar, in a tweet, said the accident once again highlighted the importance of tunnels and strategically important passes.
He called for tunnels under ZojiLa, KhardungLa, Razdan, Sadna and Sinthan passes, and a tunnel to connect Keran in North Kashmir and under Peer ki galli on the Mughal Road, so as “to stop areas being cut off in winter.”
Mehbooba said, “(I am) Saddened to hear about the loss of lives because of the avalanche in Khardungla, Ladakh. Prayers for the families of the departed.”
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC) Leh Chairman-cum-CEC Jamyang Tsering Namgayal has also expressed condolences over loss of five lives and hoped that rest of the five victims would be rescued.