Days After Surviving Avalanche, Indian Soldier Dies

The only surviving member of a group of 10 Indian soldiers that was hit by a Himalayan avalanche on February 3 has died from his injuries, the BBC reported. The soldier, Hanumanthappa Koppad, was found alive on February 8 deep under the snow at an altitude of about 19,600 feet, days after the deadly avalanche happened on a glacier in Kashmir. He succumbed to his injuries on February 11.

Siachen Glacier (Credit: Thehindu)
Siachen Glacier (Credit: Thehindu)

The avalanche buried the soldiers after it hit a camp located in the northern part of the Siachen glacier. Rescue operations were conducted by specialized teams from the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force. There were over 150 personnel with radar, snow-cutting equipment, medical equipment, and thermal detectors engaged in the rescue work. Koppad was detected using radar and thermal imaging. He was weak and disoriented when he was rescued.

The soldier was airlifted to a hospital in Delhi and was being taken care of by special medical teams. “We hope the miracle continues. Pray with us,” the Army said, according to NDTV, when he was in a coma.

Kopad was given full state honors during his funeral on February 12, in his home village of Betadur in the Dharwad district. Hundreds of people went to the funeral and the whole village was immersed in sorrow. The Chief Minister in India guaranteed approximately $37,000 for the family, according to a report in The Indian Express.

Funeral of the Indian soldier (Credit: Thehindu)
Funeral of the Indian soldier (Credit: Thehindu)

The Siachen glacier is considered to be the world’s highest battlefield. It’s located in a disputed region, and both India and Pakistan send troops to patrol it, hoping to gain sovereignty. The avalanche that killed the soldiers spurred discussions about the conditions of the soldiers who have been patrolling this region, and must work in hazardous conditions and thin air. In January 2016, four Indian soldiers were killed by an avalanche in the same area, according to a BBC report. Prior to 1984, neither India nor Pakistan had any permanent settlement in the area.

In 2003, India and Pakistan declared a ceasefire along the Line of Control, which is a line between the areas claimed by the two countries and serves as the de facto border. However, soldiers from both India and Pakistan stationed in this area have died  because of the extreme weather conditions. In fact, over 870 soldiers have lost their lives due to the weather conditions since 1984, according to The Hindu.

Pakistan proposed on February 11 that both countries should mutually withdraw troops from the world’s coldest battlefield to avoid future tragedies, according to a report. This proposal has been turned down by the Indian Army.

“No question of troops withdrawal from Siachen as proposed by Pakistan unless Indian position on ground is authenticated,” an Indian military official said, according to The Indian Express.

He added: “I see no reason at all to connect this to any withdrawal from the Glacier. That being absolutely clear to us, we are committed to defending our borders and we will continue to do that.”

Although India has been continually improving the equipment for soldiers who are stationed at Siachen, future injuries and deaths seem likely due to the hazardous conditions at the top of the world.