IAF pulls off daring rescue of 22 foreign trekkers in Ladakh

IAF pulls off daring rescue of 22 foreign trekkers in Ladakh

Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters braved inclement weather to rescue
21 Britons and an injured Frenchwoman from the Markha Valley in Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region since Thursday. 

Two IAF helicopters from Leh beat turbulence and stormy winds to land at a rocky, undulating site in the narrow Markha Valley just a few minutes before sunset on Thursday and rescue 10 of the 21 trekkers from the UK. The remaining 11 and the Frenchwoman were rescued on Friday.

The woman, who had sustained severe spinal injury and multiple rib fractures, was rushed to a hospital in Leh.

Due to continuous downpour since last Sunday, all major rivers, like the Indus, Nubra, Shyok and their tributaries, in Ladakh were flowing above the danger mark, and road and telephone communication cut off in most places.

The IAF station at Leh received a message at 4 pm on Thursday requesting emergency rescue of a group of British citizens stranded in the Markha Valley, with some members complaining of breathing problems.

The “Siachen Pioneers”, the premier IAF helicopter unit at Leh, was pressed into service for the operation, rendered more difficult as the trekkers' exact location and the nature of their injuries were ambiguous; the coordinates and the place given by the civil agency were off by 50 Nautical Miles.

Just 45 minutes after the request, two IAF helicopters took off, led by Commanding Officer Wing Commander B S Sehrawat with Flight Lieutenant Cirag as formation leader, and Wing Commander K S Negi with Squadron Leader V Chauhan as his number two.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) said the helicopters reached the probable area and commenced intense search in the narrow valley, which by then was under hilly shadows.

After 10 minutes, the pilots located the trekkers close to the Thinlespa village on the bank of a river. The trekkers had made a temporary “SOS” sign near the rivulet.

The treacherous terrain and vertical slope of more than 70 degrees, however, made landing near the camp impossible. The weather and approaching sunset added to the mission's difficulty and criticality.

The lead helicopter identified a small clearing near the camp on the riverbank at 12,000 feet, around 200 feet North-West of the camp's location, just enough for the chopper's skid.  Meanwhile, the weather deteriorated, with turbulence, winds and shadows engulfing the landing site.

“The approach to the selected landing point was restricted, and with limited power margin and manoeuvring space, there was no margin for error,” said the MoD After making the landing himself, the leader instructed the second helicopter to land at the same spot.

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