World

Soldier rescued after six days buried in snow

An Indian soldier was rescued nearly a week after he was buried by a deadly avalanche on the world's highest battleground.

Yesterday, Lance Corporal Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad was being treated in Delhi in critical but stable condition, the army said.

Mr Koppad spent six days trapped in snow after a massive block of ice fell onto his army post on the Siachen glacier on Feb 3, killing nine of his colleagues, AFP reported.

He was found under about 7m of snow in temperatures of minus 45 deg C, Army Command chief Lieutenant-General D.S. Hooda told The Times of India.

The soldier's rescue late on Monday came days after India said there was little hope of survivors from the disaster in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Lt-Gen Hooda called it a "miracle" as he described the huge challenges faced by the rescue team, operating at an altitude of 5,900m.

"It was not a typical soft snow avalanche. It was like a wall of rock-hard ice," he told AFP, describing how army rescuers used sniffer dogs and specialist radar to detect the buried soldiers. "The effort went on day and night, except during two nights when blizzards hit the area."

Reports said Mr Koppad survived in an air pocket.

Special battery-operated snow-cutters had to be flown in using helicopters which, at that altitude, can carry only up to 50kg in weight.

"We are all very, very happy," Mr Koppad's father told reporters.

"God has been very kind to us. His mother had been crying, I was also crying," he said, without giving his name.

"We don't have money to go and visit him. If the government can help us a little, we can go to meet him."

Lt-Gen Hooda said the bodies of the other nine soldiers had been retrieved, declaring the rescue mission over.

An estimated 8,000 soldiers have died on the glacier since 1984, almost all of them from avalanches, landslides, frostbite, altitude sickness or heart failure, rather than combat.

In 2012, 140 Pakistani soldiers were killed at the high-altitude Gayari base in one of the worst disasters on the glacier.

MINUS 70 DEG C

Each side is estimated to deploy around 3,000 troops on the glacier, where winter temperatures plummet to minus 70 deg C, with blizzards gusting at speeds of 160kmh.

The nuclear-armed neighbours fought a fierce battle over Siachen in 1987, though guns on the glacier have largely fallen silent since a peace process began in 2004.

The Kashmir region - of which Siachen is a part - is divided between Pakistan and India but is claimed by both.

It has triggered two of the three wars between the neighbours since independence in 1947 from Britain.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the soldier in hospital shortly after his arrival in Delhi. "We are all hoping and praying for the best," Mr Modi tweeted.

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