Nine trekkers from Karnataka killed in Uttarkashi blizzard

The Army, Air Force, SDRF and various government agencies were ready for the rescue mission at 5am on June 5.
A rescued trekker being given medical attention in Uttarkashi  on Wednesday.
A rescued trekker being given medical attention in Uttarkashi on Wednesday.Photo | express

BENGALURU: Nine trekkers from Karnataka died on a trek route in Uttarkashi, Uttarakhand, when a group of 22 trekkers was stranded in a severe blizzard which struck around 2pm Tuesday.

Five of the deceased trekkers were identified as Sindhu Wakelam (44), Asha Sudhakar (71), Sujata Mungurwadi (52), Vinayak Mungurwadi (55) and Chitra Praneeth (48), the Disaster Management department (DMD) said.

The group, comprising 18 trekkers from Karnataka and one from Maharashtra, besides three local guides, had embarked on a high-altitude trek to Sahastra Tal Mayali in Uttarkashi. The age group of the trekkers ranges from 34 to 71.

Weather conditions suddenly deteriorated on Tuesday afternoon. Soon after news broke of the trekkers being stranded en route, the Uttarkashi district administration informed the Indian Mountaineering Federation and Karnataka DMD late Tuesday evening.

Three Indian Air Force helicopters were pressed into service for rescue operations from 9am on Wednesday.

The Karnataka government appointed IAS officer Vipul Bansal, at present on election duty in Nagpur, as the nodal officer. Karnataka Revenue Minister Krishna Byregowda flew to Dehradun to keep a close watch on the rescue operations and bring back the rescued trekkers. 

“I have discussed with officers involved in the rescue operation. We are working with the local authorities to transport all nine bodies to Dehradun, subject to weather conditions. Five bodies are currently in Uttarkashi and four on the trekking route. All arrangements are being made to transport the bodies to Bengaluru as soon as possible,” Byregowda said.

He also spoke to the rescued trekkers who are housed in Bijapur Guest House in Dehradun. “The weather began to to turn bad when they were starting the trek back to the base camp around 2pm Tuesday,” he said.

The rescued trekkers who were sent to Dehradun are Soumya Canale (37), Smruti Dolas (40), Sheena Lakshmi (47), S Shiva Jyoti (45), Anil Jamtige Arunachal Bhatt (52), Bharat Bommana Gouder (53), Madhu Kiran Reddy (52) and Jayaprakash B S (61). S Sudhakar (65), Vinay MK (47) and Vivek Sridhar (38) were rescued and are in Natin-Bhatwadi, while two other trekkers — Naveen A (39) and Ritika Jindal (37) — reached Silla village and are doing fine.

The trekkers were sent by Himalayan View Trekking Agency, Maneri, on May 29 on a 35-km long trek.

Principal Secretary, DMD, Rashmi Mahesh said the Uttarkashi administration had contacted them to inform about the incident. “The administrations of both states are working together on this. Disaster Response Force personnel are also working on the rescue operation.”

Byregowda spoke to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah from Dehradun and apprised him of the situation. Siddaramaiah spoke to one of the rescued, Bhatta, over phone, and collected details about the tragic incident and measures that need to be taken.

Sharing the trekkers’ experience, Byre Gowda said: “On June 3, two trekkers exited the main group and continued forward. They were unaffected by the incident. On June 3 morning, the group of 20 trekkers and guides went from Lambtal camp site to Sahastra Tal, to return to camp. Around 2pm, when they were about two hours from the camp, it started to snow and by 4pm, it intensified into a blizzard. By 6pm, two trekkers succumbed to the bad weather. Snow and wind made movement impossible, and visibility dropped to zero. They huddled together for the night during which a few more died. On June 4 morning, a guide set off to reach a place where mobile connectivity could be established. In the meantime, some of the trekkers who were in a condition to move, started towards the camp by around 11am. The guides went to the camp and returned with supplies for the stranded trekkers. On June 4 evening, a guide managed to reach a point where phone signal was available and intimated the authorities about the situation.”

The Karnataka Mountaineering Association and Indian Mountaineering Federation alerted the agencies concerned, and the governments of Karnataka and Uttarakhand began making preparations from June 4 night. The Army, Air Force, SDRF and various government agencies were ready for the rescue mission at 5am on June 5.

Himalayan task

  • 11 trekkers were brought to Natin helipad by an Air Force helicopter; eight were dropped at Sahastradhara Dehradun by two civil helicopters

  • Two have reached Silla village and are being brought to District Hospital, Uttarkashi, via Bhatwadi by a rescue team and ambulance

  • Bodies of five deceased were brought to Natin helipad on Army’s Cheetah helicopter; they are at District Hospital, Uttarkashi, where medical procedures are being done

  • Ten forest officials, two revenue sub-inspectors, Home Guards and local villagers from Silla were sent to the site for search and rescue operation

  • Five mountaineering teams of Nehru Mountaineering Institute were deployed in Laata village as backup for the rescue operation

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