One junior commissioned officer (JCO) and nine jawans of the Army’s 19 Madras battalion have been trapped after an avalanche struck their post in Siachen early Wednesday morning. Rescue operations are on by the Army and the Air Force.
The post is at 19,600 feet on the Actual Ground Position Line (AGPL) — the border with Pakistan at Siachen glacier — in the vicinity of Bana post.
Spokesperson for the Ministry of Defence, Northern Command, S D Goswami said the rescue operations were being closely monitored from Leh and Udhampur.
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The maximum tenure of any soldier on the northern glacier is three months, while for some tougher posts, such as Bana post, it is restricted to 30 days. Units deployed on the northern glacier are rotated after a six-month stint.
Siachen is the world’s highest active battlefield, contested by India and Pakistan since 1984 when India launched Operation Meghdoot. In April 1984, the Indian Army moved in to pre-empt a move by the Pakistan Army to occupy the glacier. Indian Army currently occupies the full Siachen glacier, while Pakistani forces are deployed at the lower heights of Saltoro ridge.
Since the start of Operation Meghdoot, India has lost 33 officers, 54 JCOs and 782 jawans due to climatic conditions, and environmental and other factors at Siachen. Last November, an officer of 3 Ladakh Scouts died after he was buried in an avalanche on the southern glacier.
An Army officer who has done two stints at northern Siachen explained that avalanches usually take place due to accumulation of snow and are triggered by morning sunlight. In other cases, when the slope of accumulated snow is between 60 to 80 degrees, the instability leads to an avalanche.
The cause of the current avalanche is not yet known.
The Army has a unit of the Snow Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) in Jammu and Kashmir, with several observatories at various locations. SASE regularly issues warnings and alerts to the Army formations and units deployed in high altitude areas in Siachen and along the Line of Control. Most of these warnings are about avalanches, snowstorms and landslides. It is not yet clear whether any warning was issued in the area before Wednesday’s avalanche.