NEW DELHI: It took 150 Siachen-hardened soldiers, two dogs and a whole battery of rescue equipment to locate an Indian Army post that was swept away by an avalanche six days ago. And when they located the spot and cleared boulders of ice as big as your living room, they found Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad of 18 Madras Regiment still alive and conscious but drowsy.
Exhausted after a 24X7 search over five days, the Army’s crack rescue team found themselves suddenly energised. Immediately, Hanamanthappa was flown out from the rescue site on a helicopter along with a medical specialist to the Siachen Base Camp, from where he was brought to the Thois air base and subsequently transferred to the Army’s R&R Hospital in Delhi by an IAF aircraft.
There, doctors found him “severely dehydrated, hypothermic, hypoxic, hypoglycemic and in shock”. But despite his five days under tonnes of snow, Hanamanthappa had no cold exposure-related frostbite or bone injuries. He is in coma now, and doctors are hoping he will endure another 24-48 hour window, during which his life systems will wage a “stormy battle”. They characterised his state as “extremely critical”. If he comes through, it would be a Siachen miracle taken to completion.
Army officials said they are mystified how the soldier survived in conditions of –40 degrees Celsius for six days. One officer said that only Hanamanthappa can explain since he is the only survivor of the post. The soldier was found in an arctic tent or fibre-reinforced hut that was buried deep in ice after an 800 X 400ft wall of ice had broken off and swept the post. “Probably that hut might have been giving him crucial insulation,” said an officer, attempting an explanation. “And probably an air-pocket might have provided him the required oxygen.”
After visiting the soldier in hospital, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “No words are enough to describe the endurance & indomitable spirit of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa. He is an outstanding soldier.”
But there’s still a battle to be fought: A whole phalanx of specialists are attending to Hanamanthappa: intensivists, neurologists, nephrologists, endocrinologists and surgeons.
“He has been placed on a ventilator to protect his airways and lungs,” said the Army’s medical bulletin. “He is expected to have a stormy course in the next 24 to 48 hours due to complications caused by re-warming and establishment of blood flow to the cold parts of the body.” The bulletin read, “He continues to be in shock with low blood pressure. He has pneumonia and his investigations have revealed liver and kidney dysfunction.”
It had taken a whole expedition to reach Hanamanthappa. The highly trained and acclimatised troops were part of the team, who had the arduous task of chipping away at 25-30 ft of blue ice, which is harder than concrete.
The team worked under extreme weather conditions where the average day temperature is –30 degrees Celsius and night temperature below –55 degrees Celsius.
Specialised rescue dogs were also pressed into service. “The dogs, Dot and Misha, did a tremendous job,” the officials said.
Specialized digging and boring equipment, like rock drills, electrical saws and earth augers were flown in. In addition, deep penetration radars, capable of detecting metallic objects and heat signatures at a depth of 20 m, and radio signal detectors were also flown in using Air Force fixed-wing aircraft and Army Aviation helicopters.
The grim lining to this miraculous story is that the bodies of nine of Hanamanthappa’s post were also extricated from their icy grave.
Ever-smiling and cordial
■ Lance Naik Hanamanthappa enrolled in 19th Battalion of the Madras Regiment on October 25, 2002
■ During his 13 years of service, was posted for 10 years in difficult terrain, including Mahore (J&K), from 2003 to 2006 where he was involved in counter insurgency operations
He again volunteered to serve with 54 Rashtriya Rifles (MADRAS) in J&K from 2008 to 2010
■ He also served in the North East from 2010 to 2012 where he participated in ops against NDFB and ULFA
■ From Aug 2015, he was serving in the super-high altitude regions of Siachen Glacier and was chosen for deployment at an altitude of 19,600 ft since Dec 2015, encountering temperatures well below –40 degrees Celsius and winds up to 100 km/h
■ Hanamanthappa was highly motivated and physically fit
■ As an individual, he was ever-smiling and shared a cordial relationship with peers and subordinates. He is married to Mahadevi Ashok Bilebal and has a two-year-old daughter Netra
People Across The Country Joined in The Family's Prayers
The entire nation joined in the prayers of the family and friends of Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad, who was pulled out from under tonnes of snow on the Siachen glacier where an Indian Army post was swept away by an avalanche six days ago.
Lt Gen D S Hooda, Northern Army Commander said, “We hope the miracle continues. Pray with us.”
Inspired by the soldier's endurance, ordinary people express across the country joined in the family's prayers.
In Bangalore, student Akshay said:
Another student Vallari Parashar said:
Students in Chennai expressed their concern for Hanumanthappa