Shimla: A massive combing operation is on to retrieve the main wreckage of an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-29 combat jet and to locate its other parts, including the black box, in the snow-bound Himalayan terrain of Himachal Pradesh`s Lahaul Valley, an official said Friday.
The search by the IAF and the Indian Army is focused on the Gangstang glacier in the peaks above Chokhang village. Sniffer dogs were also pressed into the effort but have been unsuccessful so far.
There is still no word yet on Squadron Leader D.S. Tomar who piloted the ill-fated plane that crashed Oct 18 at elevations ranging from 15,000 to 20,000 feet above sea level.
"The army dog squad deployed two days ago in the ground combing operations has also not yielded any result due to extreme cold climatic conditions there. The sniffer dogs were brought back to the base camp Thursday," Deputy Superintendent of Police Khajana Ram told IANS over telephone.
He said the focus now was mainly on the ground recce by mountaineers from the IAF and the army. Some local mountaineers are also involved in the operation.
Lahaul and Spiti Deputy Commissioner Rajeev Shankar said no major aerial combing was carried out Friday due to bad weather.
At a gradient of 70-80 degrees and in an avalanche-prone area, the progress could not have been faster, the task force commander, Group Capt P.K. Sharma, said.
IAF spokesman Wing Commander S.K. Mehta said a number of expert mountaineers and climbers have been deployed in the search operation.
"We are fighting against all odds - hostile weather, steep gradient, narrow gorges and crevices. Things are little bit difficult, but we have to complete the mission at all cost," he said.
Search teams of the High Altitude Warfare School in Gulmarg and the Ladakh Scouts have been digging snow to locate the wreckage.
"The searchers have zeroed in on a 200 sq feet area that they believe is the crash spot. But frequent snowfall has blanketed the entire wreckage," he added.
Mehta said the sniffer dogs have been brought to the base camp (at 13,000 feet). "They are still in the field. They will be soon deployed for trudging the hills up to 16,500 feet."
A major portion of the wreckage is still stuck in nearly 10 feet of snow of the Gangstang glacier. The search parties have been trying to dig out the wreckage.
Kamal Thakur, who trekked the area a number of times, said the survival of pet animals at such a high altitude where the oxygen is minimal is difficult.
"Rescuing the survivors even in avalanches at such a height is really a herculean job. The sense and smelling power of dogs reduces in such conditions. Even for the humans staying for longer duration where temperatures plummets below minus 10 degrees Celsius suddenly even these days is very difficult, next to impossible," Thakur, who belongs to Kullu district, said.