NEW DELHI // An Indian soldier rescued nearly a week after he was buried by a deadly avalanche on the world’s highest battleground was airlifted to a military hospital in Delhi on Tuesday and in an “extremely critical” condition.
Hanamanthappa Koppad spent six days trapped after a massive block of ice fell onto his army post 5,900 metres high in the Himalayas, killing nine of his colleagues.
His rescue late on Monday came days after India said there was little hope of survivors from the disaster on the Siachen glacier in the disputed region of Kashmir.
General D S Hooda, who heads the Indian army’s northern command, said the man’s survival under nearly eight metres of snow in temperatures of minus 45ºC was a “miracle”.
“It was not a typical soft snow avalanche. It was like a wall of rock-hard ice,” he said, describing how army rescuers used sniffer dogs and specialist radar to detect the buried soldiers before cutting them free.
“The effort went on day and night, except during two nights when blizzards hit the area. In the end, the whole effort paid off as a miracle when a survivor was pulled out.”
The soldier was found conscious but severely hypothermic and in shock.
The government said he was now comatose and in an “extremely critical” condition and had been placed on a ventilator.
“We are all very, very happy,” Mr Koppad’s father said.
“God has been very kind to us. His mother had been crying, I was also crying.”
“We don’t have money to go and visit him. If the government can help us a little, we can go to meet him,” he added, without giving his name.
Gen Hooda said the bodies of the other nine soldiers had now been retrieved, declaring the rescue mission over.
Special battery-operated snow-cutters had to be flown in using helicopters, which at that altitude can only carry up to 50 kilograms in weight, he said.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi visited Mr Koppad in hospital shortly after his arrival in Delhi.
“We are all hoping and praying for the best,” Mr Modi tweeted.
An estimated 8,000 soldiers have died on the Siachen glacier since 1984, almost all of them from avalanches, landslides, frostbite, altitude sickness or heart failure rather than combat.
In 2012, 140 Pakistani soldiers were killed at the high-altitude Gayari base in one of the worst disasters on the glacier.
Each side is estimated to deploy around 3,000 troops on the glacier, where winter temperatures plummet to minus 70ºC, with blizzards gusting at speeds of 160 kilometres per hour.
The nuclear-armed neighbours fought a fierce battle over Siachen in 1987, though guns on the glacier have largely fallen silent since a peace process began in 2004.
The Kashmir region, of which Siachen is a part, is divided between Pakistan and India but claimed by both in full.
It has triggered two of the three wars between the neighbours since independence in 1947 from Britain.
* Agence France-Presse