Share this article

print logo

Avalanche engulfs Pakistani complex

ISLAMABAD -- Pakistani soldiers dug into a massive avalanche Saturday in a mountain battleground close to the Indian border, searching for at least 135 people buried when the wall of snow engulfed a military complex.

More than 12 hours after the disaster at the entrance to the Siachen Glacier, no survivors had been found.

"We are waiting for news and keeping our fingers crossed," said army spokesman Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas.

Hundreds of troops, sniffer dogs and equipment were at the scene but were struggling to make much headway into the avalanche, which crashed down onto the rear headquarters building early in the morning, burying it under 70 feet of snow, Abbas said.

"It's on a massive scale," he added. "Everything is completely covered."

The military said at least 124 soldiers and 11 civilian contractors were missing.

Siachen is on the northern tip of the divided Kashmir region claimed by both India and Pakistan.

The accident highlighted the risks of deploying troops to one of the most inhospitable places on Earth.

The thousands of troops from both nations stationed there brave viciously cold temperatures, altitude sickness, high winds and isolation for months at a time. Troops have been deployed at elevations of up to 22,000 feet and have skirmished intermittently since 1984, though the area has been quiet since a cease-fire in 2003. The glacier is known as the world's highest battlefield.

The headquarters in Gayari, situated at around 15,000 feet, is the main gateway through which troops and supplies pass on their way to other, more remote outposts in the sector. It is situated in a valley between two high mountains, according to an officer who was stationed there in 2003.

"I can't comprehend how an avalanche can reach that place," said the officer, who didn't give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the media. "It was supposed to be safe."

More soldiers have died from the weather than combat on the glacier, which was uninhabited before troops moved in.

Conflict there began in 1984 when India occupied the heights of the glacier. Pakistan also deployed its troops.

There are no comments - be the first to comment