Hopes fading for buried Pak soldiers in Siachen

Rescue workers frantically searched for the 139 soldiers and civilians still trapped under snow.

Islamabad: Hopes were fading fast for finding
any surviors buried under tonnes of ice as Pakistani military
rescuers were hampered by fresh heavy snowfall and bad weather
in an increasingly desperate search for 139 people, mostly
soldiers, buried in an avalanche in Siachen sector, close to
Indian border.

Almost 52 hours after mounds of snow came crushing down on
to the remote Battalion headquarters of the army high up in
Karakoram, rescuers were yet to come across any survivors or
any bodies despite pressing sniffer dogs and specialised snow
clearing equipment.

An eight-member team of US experts, which arrived in
Pakistan from Afghanistan yesterday to help in the rescue
efforts, was unable to travel to Gyari, the site of the
accident, this morning due to bad weather.

The US Embassy spokesman said authorities were standing by
to provide any assistance need by their Pakistani

Daytime temperature dipped to minus 15 degrees Celsius
following heavy snowfall in the region where the avalanche
occurred on Saturday, and the rescuers were hampered by the
extreme weather conditions.

Officials said over 200 personnel were involved in the
search for 139 people, including 124 soldiers, who were buried
under up to 80 feet of snow when the avalanche slammed into a
battalion headquarters at Gyari near Skardu.

Search and rescue teams were using sniffer dogs and heavy
machinery but were finding it difficult to dig through the
snow, media reports said.

Experts said the chances of finding survivors over 48
hours after the incident were slim.

The army camp was engulfed by the snow between 0500 to
0600 when most of the soldiers were sleeping when they were
hit by an estimated avalanche 1000 metres and 25 metres wide,
a military statement said.

Chief military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas said
yesterday that it was unclear whether any of the people buried
under the snow were still alive.

Meanwhile, the Foreign Office welcomed India`s offer of
assistance in the rescue operation, TV news channels reported.

There was no official word on whether the offer would be

Pakistan Army chief Gen Ashfaq Parvez Kayani visited the
site yesterday to supervise rescue operations.

Kayani said an avalanche of such a magnitude was
"unprecedented" and that the army and air force had mobilised
all available resources for the rescue operation.

He instructed commanders to "optimally utilise all
available resources" and "leave no stone unturned" to find the
trapped people.

The "calamity, in no way, should affect the morale of the
troops defending the motherland at the highest battlefield",
Kayani was quoted as saying in a statement.

The headquarters at Gyari is the main gateway through
which troops and supplies pass on their way to remote outposts
in the Siachen sector.

Meanwhile, people across Pakistan offered special prayers
for the trapped soldiers and civilians.

In Islamabad, the staff of the Federal Government
Polyclinic offered prayers for the missing soldiers.

Indian and Pakistani troops have been engaged in standoff
on Siachen since 1984.

However, the guns have largely been silent since late
2003, when the two countries put in place a ceasefire along
the frontiers in Jammu and Kashmir.

With soldiers deployed at heights of up to 20,000 feet at
temperatures as low as minus 50 degrees Celsius, more troops
on both sides have died due to adverse weather than combat on
the world`s highest and coldest battlefield.


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