The Monday tragedy that left 17 soldiers dead and 18 critically wounded at Khilanmarg,about 5 km from Gulmarg,could have been averted had the Army and officials at the Armys High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) taken the warnings of its Snow Avalanche Study Establishment (SASE) unit seriously.
Besides SASE,the state Disaster Management Cell had also issued warnings to civilians and Army personnel deployed in high-altitude regions of the Valley about the avalanches and snow storms.
A fresh avalanche,meanwhile,hit Kashmir Valley on Tuesday,killing an Army jawan in Kupwara district. The avalanche hit Tangdhar,14 km from here,around 3.45 am trapping 14 Army personnel,the defence spokesman said. All but one personnel were extricated from the deep snow.
The Army has a full-fledged unit of the SASE in Kashmir with 40 observatories in various locations. The SASE regularly issues warnings and alerts to Army formations and units deployed in high-altitude areas and along the Line of Control.
We have been issuing regular warnings to the troops based in high-altitude areas for the last seven days and it was up to the officials to judge the gravity of the warnings, said a senior SASE official on the condition of anonymity. Our accuracy rate is over 60 per cent, he added.
The warnings were issued as early as Sunday and Gulmarg was specially mentioned as an avalanche-prone zone. However,officials at the HAWS did not pay heed to these warnings and a batch of around 300 to 400 Army personnel left for the Khilanmarg camp on Monday despite the region experiencing heavy snowfall.
Defence spokesperson Lt Col J S Brar confirmed that the SASE had issued warnings. He,however,said it was a routine exercise and no specific warning was issued to the Army. The SASE issues warning for high-altitude areas. The place where 17 soldiers died was not an avalanche-prone area.