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All 10 Siachen avalanche-hit soldiers declared dead

05 February 2016

All the 10 Army personnel trapped after a massive avalanche struck their high-altitude military post on the Siachen Glacier on Wednesday were on Thursday declared dead, the Indian Army said.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on the demise of the personnel, calling their death "very tragic" and sending condolences to their families.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar also condoled with the dead soldiers.

"My heartfelt condolences to the near and dear ones of our brave soldiers who were martyred in the line of duty in the most difficult terrain of Siachen," he said in Delhi.

The minister said it is the duty of the country to take care of their families.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi also expressed shock and deep distress on the confirmation of the demise of the 10 soldiers, including a junior commissioned officer.

Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi also tweeted that he was "very sad to know that 10 of our brave soldiers lost their lives".

A defence spokesman had earlier said that chances of finding any survivors were "very remote" after the deadly avalanche hit an post that was manned by the army men attached to Madras battalion at an altitude of 19,600 feet.

"Rescue teams are braving adverse weather and effects of rarefied atmosphere to locate and rescue survivors. However, it is with deepest of regrets that we have to state that chances of finding any survivors are now very remote," Defence PRO (Northern Command) Col S D Goswami had said in a statement in Jammu.

"It is a tragic event and we salute the soldiers who braved all challenges to guard our frontiers and made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty," Lt Gen D S Hooda, chief of Army Northern Command, said in a message.

As rescue efforts were on Thursday scaled up with induction of specialised teams, sniffer dogs and equipment, Pakistan offered its assistance but it was declined.

Director General of Military Operations Lt Gen Ranbir Singh declined his Pakistani counterpart's offer for help in rescuing the Indian soldiers, saying adequate resources have already been put in place.

Army sources in Delhi said Pakistan's director general of military operations Maj Gen Amir Riaz called up Lt Gen Singh earlier in the day and offered help.

They had said such calls are routine whenever any mishap happens near the border.

"We thanked them for the gesture but since our resources and teams are well placed and adequate, we have said that presently we don't require any help," the sources had said.

The offer of help came over 30 hours after the avalanche in Northern Glacier sector in Ladakh region in the world's highest battlefield hit the post early Wednesday.

The glaciated area presents temperatures ranging from a minimum of minus 42 degrees Celsius in the night to a maximum of minus 25 degrees Celsius during the day, Col Goswami had said.

The Siachen Glacier in the Karakorum range is known as the highest militarised zone in the world. Thousands of Indian and Pakistani troops contest an area at altitudes above 20,000 feet where they must deal with altitude sickness, high winds, frostbite and temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Celsius.

Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.

In 2012, at least 140 people including Pakistani soldiers and civilians were killed when an avalanche struck an Army camp in the strategically important Gayari sector.

An estimated 8,000 troops have died on the glacier since 1984, almost all of them from avalanches, landslides, frostbite, altitude sickness or heart failure rather than combat, local media reports have said.

The strategic importance of the glacier is widely seen as insignificant. Until 1984, neither side had troops permanently stationed there.

Both countries agree on a need to demilitarise the glacier, but attempts to reach any agreement have been unsuccessful.

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