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'Lack of health check-ups, guides' killed 9 Bengaluru trekkers on Sashastra Tal trek: Uttarkashi Police

Sharing details about the investigation, Arpan Yadhuvanshi, Superintendent of Police, Uttarkashi, said, 'Most of the trekkers were aged above 45 years… We also found that no guides accompanied the trekkers at the peak; they were instead in the advanced base camp. They also failed to read the weather conditions… We need to investigate further to understand the extent of negligence that led to the tragedy.'
Last Updated : 09 June 2024, 17:07 IST
Last Updated : 09 June 2024, 17:07 IST

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Three days after extreme weather conditions disrupted a Sashstra Tal trek in Uttarakhand and killed nine trekkers from Bengaluru, a preliminary probe by the state police said that the local tour operator— Himalayan View Adventure Company did not conduct thorough health and fitness checks on the group of trekkers that may have prevented some deaths.

The individuals who died were part of a 22-member team that got stuck in a blizzard while trekking. According to a report in the Indian Express, the trekkers, all from Karnataka were left on the peak without guides. The trek was part of Karnataka Climbers and Explorers’ ‘High Altitude Trekking and Training Programme’, conducted in collaboration with the Karnataka Mountaineering Association (KMA).

An FIR was registered at the Maneri police station in Uttarkashi against the local tour operator under Sections 304A (causing death by negligence) and 336 (act endangering life or personal safety of others) of IPC.

Sharing details about the investigation, Arpan Yadhuvanshi, Superintendent of Police, Uttarkashi, told IE, “We have found that the tour operator did not conduct thorough health checkups of the trekkers… most of the trekkers were aged above 45 years… We also found that no guides accompanied the trekkers at the peak; they were instead in the advanced base camp. They also failed to read the weather conditions… We need to investigate further to understand the extent of negligence that led to the tragedy.”

People from trekking groups also shared that the lives of the nine trekkers could have been saved if they had proper resources, and if the trek organisers fulfilled the ‘guide:guest ratio for above 12,000 feet’.

Of the nine who succumbed to the bad weather, 7 were over 45-years-old while the oldest trekker identified as Asha Sudhakar was aged 71. She was the wife of S Sudhakar, the program coordinator of the above trek and joint secretary of the KMA.

A Bengaluru resident and a trekker Anand Shankar said, “Altitudes between 14,000-16,000 ft can see snowfall and major hail storms till the onset of monsoon… This is why local shepherds venture above 14,000 feet only after monsoon begins in the first week of July. I lead treks in these altitudes and follow the shepherd calendar – only between July 1st week to the end of September. It’s a tried and trusted calendar over generations. Traditional knowledge rules in the mountains.”

He added, “Guide:guest ratio should be in check with one guide plus one helper for every three guests to ensure guests can be attended to in an emergency. Ideally the number of guests for altitude above 12,000 feet should be capped at 12. But in this case, there were 22."

A relative of one of the victims identified as Satheesan said, “It needs to be checked whether proper instructions on what to carry for a trek were given to the trekkers. Also, it needs to be clarified whether all the members of the trekking team were aware of the safety measures needed to be taken in the event of an adverse weather event like a blizzard.”

Secretary of KMA, S Srivatsa was quoted by IE as saying that all trekkers were “medically fit and briefed thoroughly” before they started. “In the run-up to any trekking expedition, we thoroughly check the medical conditions of the trekkers. We also brief them fully about the terrain, challenges, and the dos and don’ts during the trek. All were medically fit to go on the trek as per the health check-up. However, unpredictable and harsh climatic conditions led to hypothermia and eventually the deaths,” said Srivatsa.

Srivastsa reacting to the allegations against the tout operator claimed, “They are the most experienced tour operators and we have been working with them for the past 10 years. We are ready to cooperate with the probe.”

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Published 09 June 2024, 17:07 IST

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