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Siachen avalanche kills jawans

Srinagar, Dec. 16: Six army jawans were killed and another was missing after an avalanche in Siachen today, seven months after 140 deaths in a similar tragedy on Pakistan’s side of the glacier.

Most victims of the today’s avalanche, which struck posts of the 1 Assam Regiment, were from the north-eastern state, an army officer said. He gave no other details.

This is the second major avalanche-related incident in Kashmir after 18 soldiers died in February this year on the Line of Control in north Kashmir’s Gurez area.

The avalanche struck around 6.15am in the Hanif sub-sector of Turtuk in Siachen while the soldiers were moving from one post to another. The zone was the site of fierce fighting during the 1999 Kargil war and the sub-sector is named after Hanifuddin, who lost his life then.

The six bodies have been recovered and a hunt is on for one jawan, army spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel J.S. Brar said. Rescue operations had to be halted for some time because of bad weather.

The Jammu and Kashmir administration this evening issued a “medium-danger” avalanche warning for areas close to LoC in some other parts of Kashmir and the Banihal area of Jammu. That includes Gulmarg, the ski resort popular with tourists.

“A medium-danger avalanche warning has been issued for Keran Machil, Gurez, Chowkibal, Uri, Tangdhar, Gulmarg and Jawahar Tunnel areas where there was moderate to heavy snowfall last week,” said Aamir Ali, the co-ordinator of the natural disaster management cell in the state government.

Residents have been advised not to venture into steep avalanche-prone slopes. “They have also been advised against cleaning snow from rooftops of their houses to avoid casualty by roof collapses,” Ali said.

More soldiers have fallen to weather and terrain than to bullets since India deployed troops in Siachen in 1984.

In August this year, the defence ministry put a number on casualties in the area dubbed the world’s highest battlefield — 846. The figure mostly includes deaths because of extreme weather conditions. Firing casualties have come down sharply since 2003 when the neighbours announced a ceasefire.

Avalanche deaths have dropped significantly in recent years by ensuring proper adaptation of personnel with the help of research by the Defence Research & Development Organisation. That includes equipment and food specially designed to help soldiers in the frigid zone.