March 2003 News

Avalanche Kills 11 Soldiers In Kargil

7 March 2003
The Pioneer

Srinagar: At least 11 soldiers and one porter have been killed in multiple avalanches in the Kargil sector. Road links were cut off due to heavy snowfall as avalanches hit Kaksar, Kharboo, Mushkoh and Handurman posts. Informed sources said that more than a dozen soldiers are still missing and a massive rescue operation has been launched in the area. Heavy snowfall in this region throughout last week was followed by a mild earthquake which smashed many bunkers along the Line of Control (LoC) burying several soldiers housed in them. Around 30 soldiers have been rescued in the ongoing rescue operation. A Nepalese porter, Akshay Kumar, was among the dead in the Handurman avalanche, sources said. Sources in Kargil spoke of recurring avalanches despite clear skies. They said radio communication had been rendered ineffective. The high accumulation of snow is causing hindrances in the rescue campaign, they added. Frostbite has struck the rescued soldiers and many of them have been airlifted to Kargil for treatment. The posts in the Kargil sector, which were occupied by Pakistani soldiers in the winter 1998 and retrieved by the Indian Armed Forces after a three-month-long battle that began in June 1999, have been under tight surveillance since then. This means these inhospitable posts are not vacated in winter. Meanwhile, Defence Minister George Fernandes rushed to Ladakh on Friday to personally monitor rescue operations after heavy snowfall and landslides hit the region in the last few days. Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters, which began evacuating hundreds of people stranded in Nubra area of Ladakh, were pressed into action after Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mufti Mohammed Sayeed made a special request to Mr Fernandes. The unseasonal snowfall paralysed life in Nubra and Leh areas of Ladakh and blocked Khar Dung La, trapping more than 1,000 people on either side of the pass. The IAF helicopters, MI-17s and MI- 26s, have so far airlifted 200 people from Nobra and Leh areas and more sorties are expected on the Leh-Thoise-Leh sector in the next few hours to rescue the remaining people, a Defence Ministry spokesman said on Friday, adding that fixed wing aircraft could also be pressed into service, if needed.


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