Gilgit-Baltistan: Rescue Operation Continues Amidst Fading Hopes

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Islamabad (ET:With no sign of survivors nearly 36 hours after an avalanche smashed into a Pakistan Army camp near the Siachen Glacier, the military hoped for a ‘miracle’ on Sunday as rescuers searched for the 124 soldiers and 11 civilians buried beneath a blanket of snow.

Chief of Army Staff Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the Giari area where the avalanche struck on Saturday to supervise the rescue operation launched by the army’s Engineering Corps to recover the victims, who belong to the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion.

“The avalanche of such a magnitude was unprecedented in the last 20 years of this Battalion Headquarters’ existence at Giari,” said Gen Kayani.

“I have directed the concerned departments of Pakistan Army to immediately mobilise all available resources with the assistance of Pakistan Air Force to carry out a full-scale rescue operation.”

According to the army, 240 troops and civilians participated in the rescue operation on Sunday with the aid of sniffer dogs and heavy machinery, some of which was flown in on military aircraft.

Rescuers dug through snow, boulders and slush in a desperate search for the 135 people buried under the snow more than 1,000 metres wide and 25 metres high – as hopes faded of finding any survivors.

“Let’s hope for a miracle,” a military official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Reuters. Another military official, also speaking off the record, said that there were reports that some of the trapped soldiers are still alive.

However, mountaineering expert Colonel Sher Khan disagreed.  “There is no hope, there is no chance at all,” he told AFP.

“You can survive only in the first 5-10 minutes,” he said. “The casualties in avalanches occur due to pressure of heavy weight, extreme cold and lack of oxygen.”

Apart from bulldozers and excavators, chemicals were being used to melt the ice. But due to harsh weather and great height, the rescue work is slow. The victims are trapped in one of the most unforgiving environments on the earth, at an altitude of 15,000 feet in the Karakoram mountain range.

Gen Kayani appreciated the morale and efforts of the troops who were braving harsh weather conditions and inhospitable terrain and directed the commanders to leave ‘no stone unturned’ to reach out to the trapped troops.

He said that the calamity, in no way, should affect the morale of the troops defending their homeland at the world’s highest battlefield.

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An eight-member team of US experts, meanwhile, arrived in Rawalpindi on Sunday to provide technical assistance in the rescue operation.

According to a military statement, discussion will be held with the US team to find out the possibility and nature of assistance required to expedite the rescue operation. Offer of technical assistance from other friendly countries is also being considered.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh also offered to provide assistance to Pakistan, The Hindustan Times reported. Singh made the offer during his meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari.

In response, Zardari appreciated India’s offer and said he would seek assistance if needed, the report added.

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