New Delhi, Feb 9 (IANS) A thick ice sheet as hard as concrete was cut through to rescue Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad who was miraculously found alive in the Siachen Sector, after being buried for six days under tonnes of snow, following an avalanche.
The soldier was luckily inside an ‘arctic tent’ which possibly aided his survival, despite being under a thick sheet of snow which had hardened into ice, Army sources said. This arctic tent is designed to withstand extreme temperatures and has a fibre-reinforced structure.
The 10 Indian Army soldiers were at a post there to maintain a helipad that received supplies when an 800 feet by 400 feet wall of snow collapsed on them on February 3. Only one soldier survived.
Round-the-clock rescue efforts continued in extreme weather conditions digging 35 feet, with the day temperature at an average of 30 degrees Celsius below zero and the night mercury dipping futher to -55 degrees. The Army refused to give up on its men who were assumed to be dead after five days.
“People have been found alive in such situations even after weeks. It depends on the medical condition and physical factors. So it is always very difficult to tell how long someone can survive buried under snow and ice,” an Army officer told IANS.
Over 150 trained and acclimatised Army troops and several special rescue dogs were pressed into action. Army officials said the dogs played a significant role in detecting the location of the soldier.
However, to remove the sheet of ice, high technology equipment including rock drills, electric saws, and earth augers were flown in.
Deep penetration radars, capable of detecting metallic objects and heat signatures at the depth of 20 metres were put in use along with radio signal detectors.
In the difficult weather, the rescue operations continued, interrupted frequently by high intensity winds and blizzards.
It was only on February 8 that the teams were able to reach the location of the buried camp and found Koppad still alive.
Officials said he was found “conscious but drowsy” and disoriented. However, the medical bulletin issued in New Delhi on Tuesday evening said he was in a comatose state.
When he was finally extricated from the snow and ice, Koppad was severely dehydrated, hypothermic, hypoxic, hypoglycaemic and in shock. The soldier was resuscitated by the doctors at the site, who were there with hopes of finding a survivor.
The soldier was immediately administered warm intravenous fluids, humidified warm oxygen and passive external re-warming, all of critical importance after the long time he had spent in the sub-zero environment.
The soldier was flown out from the site on Tuesday by helicopter, along with a medical specialist, to the Siachen base camp, from where he was brought to Thoise air base in Ladakh.
He was then transferred to Delhi accompanied by a specialist doctor from the Siachen Base Camp and admitted to the Army Hospital (Research & Referral) here. He continues to be in an “extremely critical condition”, according to a bulletin issued by the hospital.
(Anjali Ojha can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)