New Delhi: Coming to the rescue of 22 stranded foreign nationals, the Indian Air Force helicopter unit at Leh, 'Siachen Pioneers' safely evacuated the trapped trekkers from the Markha Valley in Ladakh, amid a hostile weather.
Of the rescued tourists, 21 were British and one French national, the IAF said in a statement today.
"After five days of continuous downpour, all major rivers like Indus, Nubra, Shyok and their tributaries in Ladakh region were flowing beyond their danger mark... On August 6, at 1600 hours, IAF station Leh received a SOS message to rescue a group of British citizens who were stranded in the Markha Valley with some members suffering from asthma. Information on exact location and injuries sustained by the trekkers was ambiguous," the statement said.
Even the coordinates and the place given by civil agency were off the actual one by 50 nautical miles, it said adding the marginal weather and time of the day necessitated a search and rescue to be launched immediately.
"Two aircraft were launched, led by Commanding Officer Wing Commander BS Sehrawat with Flt Lt Cirag as formation leader and Wing Commander KS Negi with Sqn Ldr V Chauhan as his number two. Sortie planning was in progress when the crew realised that available window for successful search and rescue (SAR) was narrowing owing to deteriorating weather and the approaching sunset," the IAF said.
The mission was airborne at 1645 hour and keeping in mind the general knowhow of the Markha valley and previous knowledge of the terrain, the formation reached the probable SAR area and commenced intense search in the narrow valley which by now was under cover of hill shadows.
After 10 minutes of search, the pilots located the trekkers close to Thinlespa village on the bank of the river, it said adding thankfully, the trekkers had made a temporary "SOS" sign near the rivulet, which helped in correctly identifying the location.
"However, the treacherous terrain and vertical slope of made landing of the helicopter near the camp of trekkers impossible. The marginal weather and the approaching sunset added to the difficulty and criticality of the mission... By the time the helicopters completed their task, it was nearing sunset," the statement said.
Then again today, two sets of two Cheetal helicopters each took-off at sunrise and in a matter of a few hours, the balance 11 Britishers were rescued.
"Meanwhile, another request for causality evacuation of one French lady, who was badly injured, was received. Even though she had severe spinal injury and broken ribs, she was evacuated to Leh airfield and promptly moved to the hospital," IAF said.