Bloodthirsty insects and hostile weather: Retrieving AN-32 crash victims' bodies 'tougher' than scaling Everest
The mountaineers on the mission to retrieve the mortal remains of the slain IAF personnel had to brave treacherous terrain for the families who had lost their near and dear ones.
GUWAHATI: The 19-day-long mission to retrieve the mortal remains of 13 Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel killed in the AN-32 aircraft crash in Arunachal Pradesh last month was in some ways tougher than scaling Mt Everest, said a member of the team.
“For one, scaling Everest is about pursuing an achievement. Here, we had to brave treacherous mountain terrain and deep forests not for ourselves but for some families who had lost their near and dear ones,” said Taka Tamut, an Everester from Arunachal who was a member of the mountaineering teams that went to retrieve the mortal remains of the slain personnel.
He said they had faced multiple challenges on the mission that was supposed to be over in a day or two. From deadly insects to hostile weather, it was more stressful than scaling Everest.
“The risk involved in scaling Everest is far greater than what I experienced here. So, you cannot compare the risk. However, the Arunachal mission was more stressful as people were waiting for the mortal remains of their near and dear ones to arrive,” Tamut told this newspaper.
When the Everester, who lives in the Arunachal capital Itanagar, learnt about the aircraft being reported missing, he had left for Siang district along with a fellow mountaineer. He contacted Siang District Magistrate Rajeev Takuk on June 8 and volunteered to search for the aircraft, the wreckage of which was eventually spotted on June 11, eight days since it was reported missing.
“On June 8, I purchased some items required for trekking. The next morning, we left for the mission. On June 12, the chopper took our four-member team of two IAF personnel, one Army man and me to a place around six km from the site of crash. After a four-hour long trek, we reached the site,” Tamut said.
He said two other teams of mountaineers, one comprising seven members and another of four members, reached the crash site the next day. When all of them got together, they started planning retrieval of the mortal remains. Tamut said the bodies could have been air-lifted on June 13 itself but there were no body bags with them. Subsequently, choppers could not fly till June 17 due to inclement weather.
“The mortal remains could be air-lifted only on June 19, a day after the body bags were air-dropped. We had to carry the mortal remains to a nearby place so they could be lifted by choppers. It was a very difficult task,” Tamut said.
He said when they were hoping to be airlifted back to base, the weather started playing spoilsport. Due to incessant rains and foggy conditions, the choppers could not reach the site to take them back.
“As we continued to get stranded, we thought of coming back on foot by trekking through the mountains, traversing deep forests and crossing rivers. However, due to heavy rains, the rivers were flooded and the mountain routes became slippery. As such, we had to wait for the choppers to arrive,” Tamut said.
He said the most difficult part of the mission was to reach the crash site.
“We had to climb up and down mountains and make roads through bushes. The weather was another impediment. Secondly, we were constantly attacked by a blood-sucking insect. Every time I opened my shoes, I found several of them on my feet. At the crash site, we heard the sound of wild animals but none came to attack us,” Tamut said.
“We didn’t carry sufficient food with us as we thought the mission would be over in a day or two. We survived for six days eating Maggi, biscuits and sweets that we carried. On June 18, food and water were air-dropped and we faced no problem thereafter till June 29 when we were air-lifted back to our base,” he added.