It has been truly said that the Gods of War reside at the Siachen, the highest, coldest and most lethal battlefield of the World. This battleground, where the night temperature falls below -45 deg C, is not for the feeble hearted; only the bravest of the brave can be deployed in such adverse conditions. 19 Madras Regiment, a unit of the Indian Army, deployed in Siachen had a post at 19,600 ft. On 2 February, an ice wall of 800 x 400 ft high broke off and came down as an avalanche on to the post of 19 Madras Regiment which had 1 Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) and 9 Soldiers. As the hours turned into days, the chances of survival of any of the 10 Veer Madrasis appeared bleak and it was understood that we had lost 10 brave hearts. But, a miracle took place and 1.2 billion Indians were shocked to hear the news of survival of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa. While for a moment, we thought it was more than a miracle, the doomed morning of 11 February, Thursday snatched the brave soldier from us. Continue reading this article as I take you through the series of incredible ups and downs associated with Lance Naik and the entire Siachen tragedy.
The Rescue Mission
Immediately after the dreaded avalanche struck, rescue operations by specialised teams of the Army and the Air Force were underway, coordinated from Leh and Udhampur. The rescue operation included:
150 acclimatized army troops, including specialized teams trained in glaciated terrain.
2 canines, Dot and Misha.
Deep penetration radars, capable of detecting metallic objects and heat signatures at a depth of 20 meters, and radio signal detectors were also flown in using Air Force fixed wing aircrafts and Army Aviation helicopters.
Specialized digging and boring equipment, like rock drills, electrical saws and earth augers were flown in.
Medical teams and equipment were moved in and a post established to provide emergency treatment at the rescue site itself.
After intense and exhausting search operations for six days, fighting against odds like frequent snow blizzards, low visibility and extreme freezing temperatures, apart from the effects of rarefied atmosphere in such high altitude, the army finally hit the camp site and recovered the mortal remains of one of the martyrs. The process of rescue involved cutting though up to 40 feet of ice at multiple locations where soldiers could be buried.
However, six days after the camp of 19 Madras was struck by the massive avalanche, the rescue team found hope and a miracle in the form of a survivor, Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad. The brave heart survived after having been buried under 35 feet of snow for five days. The sight of a survivor electrified the rescue team and with dogged determination, 150 soldiers helped by the two canines Dot and Misha managed to bring out Hanamanthappa alive before resuscitating him and sending him to a Delhi hospital. The bodies of nine soldiers were also extricated from their icy grave.
The Soldier made of Steel
When Hanamanthappa was found buried under 35 ft of snow, he was still conscious though drowsy and disoriented. As per army sources, “He was severely dehydrated, hypothermic, hypoxic, hypoglycemic and in shock”. He was immediately resuscitated by the army doctors on site and after being treated with intravenous fluids, humidified warm oxygen and passive external rewarming, he was shifted by a special aircraft to Army R & R hospital in Delhi.
Miracle or Science
As per experts, 92% of avalanche victims can be revived only if found within the first 15 minutes. Only 27% are alive after 35 minutes. Then how did Lance Naik Hanamanthappa survive for 6 days? According to science the following may be a few of the reasons for his survival:
Proper acclimatization to the extreme weather conditions at the Siachen Glacier may have saved this soldier’s life.
The pit where Hanamanthappa was buried had an air pocket, which gave him the bare minimum oxygen supply while he waited to be rescued for 5 days.
Last but not the least, miracle and prayers also seemed to have played a vital role in keeping this brave heart alive.
During his treatment at the Army Research & Referral Hospital, Lance Naik had slipped into deeper coma with evidence of pneumonia in both lungs, liver and kidney dysfunction and oxygen deprivation to the brain.
Hanamanthappa Koppad & His Tearful Death
With a background of a farming family in the agrarian village of Betadur in Kundagol Taluk of Dharwad District in Karnataka, Hanamanthappa always had the ambition of joining the army. He had to fight against all odds, and despite being rejected thrice in the Army recruitment rallies at Belagavi, Dharwad and Gadag, he was finally selected as a recruit and after training was posted to the 19 Madras Regiment 14 years ago.
Hanamanthappa was married four years ago to Mahadevi and has a 2-year old daughter Netra. He had spoken to his family just a day before the avalanche. On hearing news of his survival, the family’s joy and relief knew no bounds. They immediately rushed to Goa to catch a flight to Delhi to see Hanumanthappa, who had been admitted to the Army Research and Reference Hospital there.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the R&R Hospital and praised “the endurance & indomitable spirit of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa”, and called him “an outstanding soldier.”
General Dalbir Singh, Chief of Army Staff visited the R&R Hospital and commended the brave heart for his indomitable mental robustness and his refusal to give in to the harsh elements.
Hanumanthappa – the 33-year-old-Lance Naik breathed his last at 11:45 a.m. on the morning of 11 February 2016. His body was later taken to Delhi’s Brar Square, where a wreath-laying ceremony took place. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and the three service chiefs attended the ceremony. While the nation mourns the martyrdom of its nine brave soldiers, it salutes the ‘Siachen miracle’ Lance Naik Hanamanthappa whose body was buried at the Panchayat Ground in his village Bettadur in Dharwad district in Karnataka.