Twelve more bodies were recovered Thursday from the site of an avalanche that hit a team of climbers in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi district, officials said, taking the death toll to 16.
A 41-member team of climbers, comprising 34 trainees and 7 instructors, from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), was trapped after the avalanche at Draupadi ka Danda-2 (DKD-2) peak on Tuesday morning.
While 12 team members were rescued, 13 are still missing.
According to a bulletin issued by the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM), of the 16 bodies recovered so far, 14 were of trainees and two of their instructors.
Officials said the evacuation of the bodies from the avalanche site, which was stopped due to bad weather, will resume Friday morning.
One of the survivors, Naib Subedar Anil Kumar told The Indian Express the team was out trekking as part of the advance training course conducted by the NIM.
“The 28-day course started on September 14 and in the first few days, the trainees are given a refresher of their basic course and then the advanced training. The last leg of the training included staying at a camp set up near the Dokriani Bamak glacier for around 10 days and then climbing the DKD-2 peak…where mountaineers have been going for the last 50-55 years,” said Kumar, an instructor.
Giving further details, Kumar said that on Tuesday, prepared for the tough climb, the 41 left camp-1 around 3.15 am after the weather cleared. The plan, he said, was to reach the DKD-2 summit by 8 am and return by 10 am.
“Trekking during sunlight is very unsafe as it weakens the bonding between the ice. The reflection of sunlight from the ice can also cause exhaustion. Around 7.45 am, I reached the peak along with another member of the team. We decided that in the next 15 minutes we all will stop wherever we are and start returning,” Kumar said.
Soon, however, with another group of climbers around 15-20 metres from the summit, there was a sudden slab avalanche. In a slab avalanche, the weak layer of ice breaks off, pulling all the layers on top of it down the slope. Once a slab avalanche starts, the slab shatters into many separate blocks, which further break into smaller pieces.
“Around 150 meters below us was a crevasse. The avalanche unhooked 3-4 ropes and those anchored to the ropes fell into the crevasse. I was in the front and the rope pulled me down at great speed,” said Kumar, who suffered a fracture in the leg. “I made several attempts to fix the anchor in the ice but the entire slab of ice was sliding down. When the snow began to settle, I undid the ropes and started to rescue my teammates. However, there was little we could do.”
According to NIM officials, of the 16 bodies recovered so far, only two women – Naumi Rawat and Savita Kanswal — have been identified. A resident of Uttarkashi, Kanswal was the first Indian woman to climb Mount Everest and Mount Makalu in just 16 days and created a national record.
Desperate for news, meanwhile, the families of the trainees still missing are getting desperate by every hour, waiting for information from the NIM or the rescuers.
Among them is Kamna Singh, whose husband, Airforce Sergeant Amit Kumar Singh, is among those yet to be found. “The last time I talked to him was on September 23 and he said that for the next 15-16 days he will not be able to talk to us as he will be out of the network area,” Kaamna told The Indian Express.
Kamna and Amit have a year-old daughter. She said Amit had completed his basic training in 2019 and gone to NIM on September 10. “As a Sergeant, he was to get this mountaineering training.”
At the avalanche site, the rescue teams include, besides district officials and members of the NIM, personnel of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), the State Disaster Response Force (SDRF), the Jammu and Kashmir High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS), and the Indian Army.
Those missing are said to be stuck in the crevasse in Dokriani Bamak glacier where the avalanche struck.
According to a list issued by the NIM, the trainees hail from West Bengal, Delhi, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Assam, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, and Uttar Pradesh.