ISLAMABAD: The military on Sunday dug through snow, boulders and slush in an increasingly desperate search for 135 people buried in an avalanche, as hopes faded of finding any survivors.
Nearly 36 hours after a wall of snow crashed into a remote army camp high up in the mountains of Kashmir, rescuers were yet to recover any survivors or even bodies from the Siachen Glacier, where Pakistani and Indian troops face off.
The camp was engulfed between 5:00am and 6:00am on Saturday ñ perhaps when some were sleeping ñ by a mass of snow, stones, mud and slush more than 1,000 metres wide and 25 metres high, the military said in a statement.
About 180 military personnel and 60 civilian rescuers were braving freezing temperatures at the inhospitable site close to the border with India, in area known as the world's highest battlefield, the military said.
Experts familiar with the glacier said there was little hope of finding survivors ñ the military said overnight that 135 people were missing from the camp, including 124 soldiers from the 6th Northern Light Infantry battalion.
"There is no hope, there is no chance at all," mountaineering expert Colonel Sher Khan told AFP. "You can survive only in the first 5-10 minutes," said Khan. "The casualties in avalanches occur due to pressure of heavy weight, extreme cold and lack of oxygen."
Specially trained search-and-rescue teams of army engineers equipped with the latest locating gadgets and heavy machinery had arrived, the military statement said, joining rescue units aided by sniffer dogs and helicopters. "Adequate medical staff has been made available for the treatment of injured persons in forward field hospitals," it added.
A tailor and two hairdressers were among the civilians missing in the thick snow. -- AFP APP: Chief of the Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani on Sunday visited Siachen to personally review the rescue operation launched to recover 135 soldiers and civilians trapped under the avalanche.
The COAS was accompanied by Corps Commander Lieutenant General Khalid Nawaz Khan. According to an ISPR press release, Major General Ikramul Haq, Commander FCNA, apprised the COAS of the details of the rescue operation. The COAS said that an avalanche of such a magnitude was unprecedented in the last 20 years that the Battalion Headquarters had existed at Gayari.
General Kayani further said that the army had mobilised all available resources with the assistance of PAF to carry out full-scale rescue operation. He appreciated the morale and efforts of troops who are braving the harsh weather and inhospitable terrain.
The COAS instructed the commanders to optimally utilise all available resources at their disposal and leave no stone unturned to reach out to the entrapped personnel. He said that efforts were underway to acquire the latest technical equipment for the rescue. The COAS emphasised that calamity in no way should affect the morale of the troops defending the motherland at the highest battlefield. He said the Pakistan Army had always risen to the occasion and will come through this challenge as well.