Avalanche in Pakistan smashes, Burying 100 Soldiers

Snow from an avalanche that smashed into a Pakistan army, burying over 100 Pakistani soldiers, near the Indian border on Saturday more than 24 meters (80 feet) deep, state television reported, suggesting their chances of survival were slim.

State television, quoting the army spokesman, also said the avalanche covered an area one-kilometer wide.

Darkness and bad weather forced rescuers to postpone their search Saturday after the avalanche smashed into a Pakistan army camp in “the world’s highest battleground.”

“The dark and bad weather have forced us to stop rescue work. We will resume it early morning,” a security official said late in the evening after a frantic rescue operation throughout the day.

Over 150 soldiers with sniffer dogs and aided by helicopters, have been deployed to search in the deep snow after the avalanche engulfed the camp in mountainous Gayari, Siachen, in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

A team of doctors and paramedics were also rushed to the high-altitude militarized region, which is close to the de facto border with India and where temperatures plummet to minus 70 degrees Celsius (minus 94F).

“More than 100 soldiers of NLI (Northern Light Infantry) including a colonel were trapped when the avalanche hit a military camp,” army spokesman Major General Athar Abbas told AFP.

He later added that despite hours of searching and contrary to local media reports, no bodies or survivors had been found.

“It’s too early to say anything,” he replied when asked about the chances of finding anyone alive after more than 12 hours.

A security official said rescuers had managed to transport some heavy machinery to the far-flung and deeply inhospitable area.

The avalanche struck early in the morning, a military statement said, raising the possibility that the buried soldiers were asleep at the time.

India in 1984 occupied the key areas on the Siachen glacier, including the heights, and Pakistan immediately responded by deploying its own forces. They fought a fierce battle in 1987, raising fears of all-out conflict.

The glacier is over 6,300 meters (20,800 feet) high, but despite its limited strategic importance both countries have spent heavily to keep a military presence there. 

India reportedly forks out more than 40 million rupees ($800,000) daily on its Siachen deployment – a figure that does not include additional wages and bonuses.

Experts have previously said that India has around 5,000 troops on the glacier, while Pakistan has less than half that number. The harsh weather and the altitude claim many more lives than actual fighting.

Responding to Saturday’s avalanche, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed his deep shock at the potentially heavy loss of life.

“The incident in no way would undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers,” Gilani said in a statement.