Over 100 Pakistani soldiers guarding the frontiers on the Siachen glacier have been trapped under heaps of snow after a massive avalanche hit a military camp early morning on Saturday.
Despite daylong searches, not one of the 117 soldiers was located but the Army has not given up hope, though condolence messages have begun coming in as prospects of survivors began fading with every passing minute.
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The avalanche hit the remote camp of the Northern Light Infantry in the Gayari region around 6 a.m. According to military spokesman Athar Abbas, it was a massive slide and must have taken the troops by surprise as such occurrences normally happen at night.
Hundreds of troops, sniffer dogs and mechanical equipment were pressed into service to locate the men snowed in following the avalanche, which crashed into the rear headquarters building in the Gayari sector. They are believed to be buried under approximately 70 feet of snow in a treacherous terrain where survival is, as it is, very difficult.
The terrain, coupled with sub-zero temperatures — touching minus 70 degree Celsius in winter — and low oxygen levels, has consumed more lives on both sides of this India-Pakistan standoff over Siachen than actual combat.
Billed as the world's highest battlefield, the glacier along the Line of Control was an uninhabited terrain before troops moved in there in 1984.
Apart from Pakistan preparing to accept what seems to be inevitable and mourning the loss of lives, the avalanche has triggered a debate on the futility of keeping troops on these heights where harsh weather is the worst enemy of those guarding the glacier.
The Inter Services Public Relations notified telephone numbers for information on the soldiers.
Zardari, Gilani express shock
President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani have expressed shock and concern at the loss of lives and trapping of soldiers.
Mr. Zardari directed the authorities to expedite rescue and relief operations to save the lives of the soldiers. Expressing solidarity with the personnel, the President prayed for their early recovery.
He said the civil administration would extend full cooperation to the Army's rescue efforts.
In a separate statement, Prime Minister Gilani said he was in constant touch with the authorities regarding the rescue operation. The incident would, in no way, undermine the morale of soldiers, he said.
The bodies of some soldiers have been pulled out, state-run Radio Pakistan quoted the Army's media wing as saying. It did not say how many bodies were recovered.
Army officials said heavy engineering machinery has been moved by air from the garrison city of Rawalpindi to speed up the rescue work.
Rescuers were facing difficulties in moving heavy machinery to the far-flung area.