Avalanche kills 17 soldiers in J&K

SRINGER; Seventeen Indian soldiers were killed today in an avalanche that slam-med into a group of 70 combat troops at a high-altitude warfare training camp in Jammu and Kashmir, the army said.

Army spokesman Colonel Vineet Sood said the avalanche struck in the Khelenmarg mountains, close to the ski resort of Gulmarg, which has become a major draw for foreign, off-piste adventure skiers.

“We have 17 dead and 17 injured. No one is missing and rescue teams have returned to their bases,” Sood told AFP.

The soldiers were from the Indian army’s High Altitude Warfare School, which houses around 450 troops. The main facility was not struck by the avalanche which swept away one of four sub-camps used for training operations. Heavy snowfall and high winds had hampered rescue operations and made communications difficult.

Gulmarg lies 50 kilometres west of Srinagar.

First set up as a skiing school for a frontline infantry division in 1948, a year after India’s independence from Britain, the high altitude school is the army’s main mountain warfare training institute. Kashmir tourism official Ghulam Mohammed Dar, who participated in the rescue operation, said there were no local or foreign skiers in the avalanche area which was high above the popular slopes.

The site, at an altitude of 2,730 metres.

It had been snowing heavily in and around Gulmarg since Friday and J&K’s disaster management department had already issued warnings that heavy snowfall could trigger avalanches.

The Gulmarg resort boasts thousands of metres of relatively unrestricted off-piste skiing.