Pakistan’s military hoped for a miracle yesterday as rescue teams searched for 124 soldiers and 11 civilians buried by a Himalayan avalanche near the Indian border, with no sign of survivors more than 24 hours later.
The avalanche engulfed a Pakistani army battalion headquarters near a glacier early on Saturday, leaving snow up to 25m deep over an area 1km wide.
The victims are trapped in one of the most unforgiving environments on Earth, at an altitude of 4,500m near the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram mountain range.
“Let’s hope for a miracle,” said a military official, who asked to remain anonymous.
Helicopter rescue teams and troops on the ground with sniffer dogs were racing against time.
“On Wednesday and Thursday, we expect cloudy conditions and some snow fall as well, which will make it difficult for any rescue operations to continue,” meteorologist Mohammed Hanif said on state TV.
The area is also one of the world’s most militarily tense frontiers, where the Indian and Pakistani armies have confronted each other over disputed territory for decades.
Eleven civilian employees of the military were buried under the snow along with the soldiers of the 6 Northern Light Infantry Battalion, the military said in a statement.
The army listed the names of the missing on its PR Web site, from officers to waiters to barbers.
The military has ruled Pakistan for more than half of its 64 year history, setting foreign and security policy even when civilian governments are in power, as is the case now.
Siachen is in the northern part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The no-man’s-land of Siachen is 6,000m above sea level. Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire. Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three full-scale wars since independence from Britain in 1947.
Siachen has been described as the world’s highest battlefield. Indian and Pakistani troops have fought at altitudes of more than 6,096m in temperatures of minus-60oC.