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Army women on top of the world

New Delhi, June 2: Four women from an Indian Army team today summitted Mount Everest even as the Indian government requested Chinese authorities to help trace an air force officer missing after reaching the top on Monday.

Hopes to trace Squadron Leader S.S. Chaithanya who has been missing since summitting the Everest on Monday went up this afternoon after some of his equipment was located. But he is yet to be found.

The army said Captain Shipra Mazumdar, Captain Ashwini Pawar, cadet Tshering Ladol and trainee Dechin Lhamo scaled the 8,848-metre peak between 6.15 am and 9.39 am and became the first group from a women’s expedition to achieve the feat.

The army expedition also comprised men who summitted ' Major S.S. Shekhawat, Subedar Surjeet Singh, Naib Subedar Jagat Singh, Havildar Topgey Bhutia and Commando Kaman Singh. They went as a support team.

Army chief General Joginder Jaswant Singh, who is a mountaineer himself, had taken a personal interest in the expedition of the women.

The expedition scaled the peak from the Chinese side after the service decided to avoid Nepal because of the Maoist insurgency.

Indian Army teams have summitted Mount Everest thrice. “The achievement will go a long way in infusing a sense of enthusiasm and spirit of teamwork in the youth of the nation. This feat will provide impetus to the growth of adventure sports in the country,” defence minister Pranab Mukherjee said in a message.

Indian Air Force spokesperson Wing Commander Sanjiv Sharma said the Chinese authorities had been requested for help to trace Chaithanya who went missing in a blizzard.

Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury led the 19-member air force team. Chaithanya was a member of the second group from the team to attempt Everest.

The first group made its attempt on May 22 but the mission was unsuccessful because of strong winds on the north face of Everest. The second group of Wing Commander R.C. Tripathi, Squadron Leader Chaithanya and sergeant N.R. Choudhury began their attempt from camp III on May 29 and summitted on May 30 between 5.15 am and 9.50 am. Each of the three climbers was accompanied by a sherpa.

On their return around 5 pm, the mountaineers were caught in a blizzard. Tripathi, Chowdhury and their sherpas reached camp III around 7.30 pm. Chaithanya and his sherpa were trailing about two hours as they had summitted last. Around 8.15 pm, the sherpa accompanying Chaithanya reached camp III and reported that he had lost contact with the officer. No search could be conducted at night because of the adverse weather.

Since May 31, search and rescue teams from the IAF and the army have been trying to trace him.

Today, at 3.30 pm, one of his crampons was found at an altitude of 8,550 metres. No radio contact could be made with Chaithanya, said to be carrying “adequate” oxygen.

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