ITBP to set up 5 rescue teams in the Himalayas

ITBP personnel carry the body of a mountaineer from Nanda Devi at base camp on the mountain before airlifting the remains down to Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand. (ITBP/AFP Photo)

With an increasing number of mountaineers taking to Indian Peaks, the Indo-Tibetan Border Patrol (ITBP) on Monday said the climbers should ensure that they are fully geared with equipment, and stakeholder agencies in this domain should run a campaign to promote responsible mountaineering.

ITBP Director General, S S Deswal said this while honouring the 15-member team of the force that undertook a 'daredevil' operation to retrieve bodies of seven climbers from an arduous height of 19,000 feet of the 7,434-metre tall Nanda Devi East peak in Uttarakhand.

"The Indian peaks in the Himalayan ranges gives a lot of opportunities to climbers and we are witnessing a rapid increase in visitors to these mountains from different countries. I assure them that the ITBP is committed to helping them in times of distress and as the first responders," Deswal said.

It is also important that educative and awareness campaigns are run by different stakeholders in this domain to teach the trekkers about responsible mountaineering. We understand that the climbers who perished in the latest incident lacked some equipment, the DG said.

Deswal said despite the delay in getting the information, his men first rescued four trekkers and later retrieved the bodies of seven climbers who were found at 19,000 feet in a bowl-shaped region below the peak.

The ITBP climbers, led by second-in-command rank officer Ratan Singh Sonal, clocked 500 hours spanning over 15 days to bring back the mortal remains of the seven climbers on July 3, so that their families find closure from the tragic episode.

The bodies, comprising six foreigners and one Indian, were first spotted by the Indian Air Force's (IAF) search planes on June 3, after they were reported missing on May 25.

The Indo-Tibetan Border Police force (ITBP) chief said they are raising five teams spread across the Himalayan states of Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh to undertake rescue missions for trekkers and climbers in distress.

The force is deployed in these states as part of their charter to guard the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China.

Deswal also declared that the ITBP team, who he said showed exemplary courage and grit in retrieving seven out of the eight bodies, will be decorated with the DG insignia, the highest service decoration in the force.

The DG also gave away cash reward of Rs. 25,000 to Sonal, while the rest were handed out Rs. 20,000 each.

The force is also recommending their names for gallantry medals, a senior official said.

ITBP Deputy Inspector General (DIG) A P S Nimbadia, who supervised the operation from the ground in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand, said the team tugged, dragged and carried the bodies with all due respect from 17,000 feet to 21,000 over a cliff before they were brought below so that helicopters could lift them.

"There was a lack of communication as we were informed only on May 31 and the team of trekkers had gone missing on May 25. However, after good coordination with the IAF and district administration we were able to achieve the mission," Nimbadia said.

Deswal said the operation has shown to the world that India possesses 'good capabilities' to execute such tough and challenging tasks.

The ill-fated team had permission to go the Nanda Devi East peak and such adventures come with risks and accidents. However, we assure all climbers that the force is there to help them in the Himalayas, the ITBP chief said.

He added that the eighth body of team leader and noted British mountaineer, Martin Moran could not be located due to heavy snowfall in the area.

The ITBP team that executed the operation, code-named 'daredevils', includes Deputy Commandant Anoop Negi, Inspector Hemant Goswami, Head Constables Devendra Singh, Kalam Singh and Bhagyashali Meena, Constables Kapil Dev, Pradeep Panwar, Bharat Lal, Jaiprakash Singh, Sanjay Singh, Surendra Singh, Dheerendra Pratap, Devendra Singh and Manjeet Singh, a spokesperson of the force said. 

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