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Gangotri porters recount deaths, rescuers soldier on

Sept. 16: Three rescued porters have said that mountaineers Gautam Mukherjee and Tapas Dawn and one Nepalese porter, who were stranded in the higher reaches of the Garhwal Himalayas since September 5, died last Thursday.

The three porters were lifted to safety by an Indian Air Force helicopter near the 21,400-foot-high Gangotri-III peak today.

However, Mukherjee’s family members said from Asansol they are still waiting for official confirmation. Brother Krishnendu said the family has not got any official intimation till Monday evening.

Mukherjee’s father Satyanarayan said: “He had been going to the mountains for the past 20 years.” The deputy leader of the expedition, Mukherjee has a son and daughter.

Authorities in Uttarkashi said they would continue with the search. District magistrate N.C. Sharma said the mountaineers could be declared dead only if their bodies are found.

The two mountaineers, along with four porters, had scaled the peak on September 5 but were trapped in a blizzard on their way down. While other members of the expedition from Asansol had come down, Mukherjee and Dawn had stayed back with the porters to clear luggage from the summit camp, at a height of 18,000 feet.

The survivors — Raj Kumar, Deepu Sahi and Meen Bahadur — told Uttarkashi police they were stranded near the summit camp after the weather suddenly turned hostile. They spent three days and four nights shivering under a small rock before Bahadur and Kumar trekked down to the base camp to bring food for the rest. Dhani Ram, the porter, Mukherjee and Dawn died on their way down, the other porters said after regaining consciousness.

The other members of the team had tried to reach the stranded climbers but were forced to turn back. Continuous snowfall and incessant rain also hampered rescue efforts by the police.

As the weather cleared today, one air force helicopter spotted the three porters lying unconscious.

Vishram Ram, deputy superintendent of police, Uttarkashi, said the rescue helicopter could not spot Mukherjee, Dawn and Ram.

“The police would not give up hopes of their being alive until their bodies are traced as the mountaineers are reported to have had a meal on September 12, which would have helped them brave the adverse weather”.

The chopper would fly again tomorrow in search of the climbers.

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