Uttarakhand Avalanche: As Uttarkashi counts death toll, mountaineers’ families brace for worst

Twelve were rescued; 26 bodies recovered, only two identified; Three are still missing.

These numbers look at several families who have reached the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering (NIM) in Uttarakhand’s Uttarkashi over the past three days. Some are still hanging on to a faint sliver of hope, while others are waiting for those numbers to turn into sounds they don’t want to hear.

“I last spoke to my husband on September 23. He said that for the next 15-16 days, he will not be able to talk to us as he will be out of network area,” said Kaman Singh.

Kamna’s husband, IAF Sergeant Amit Kumar Singh, was among 41 climbers who were caught in an avalanche near the Draupadi Ka Danda-2 (DKD-2) summit on Tuesday morning. But he was not among the 12 rescued. And of the 26 bodies recovered, including ten on Friday, only two female trainers – Noomi Rawat and Savita Kanswal – have been identified. There is no word yet on the other three.

Distraught and barely able to speak, Kamna said her husband “completed his basic training in 2019 and left for NIM in September”. The Jaipur-based couple has a two-year-old daughter.

The family of Nitish Dahiya (20), a resident of Haryana, who was the youngest of the group, had no word. They are among those who are being accommodated in the NIM campus.

Then, there are those in their way.

“I am still waiting to get some information about my younger brother. He is only 23,” said Arjun Singh Gohil’s elder brother Kuldeep Singh, who could not be traced. Speaking over the phone from Bhavnagar in Gujarat, Kuldeep said he was “in constant touch with them (authorities)”.

SDRF teams left Dehradun’s Sahasrathara helipad to rescue trainees trapped in an avalanche on the Danda-2 peak of Draupadi. (Source: ANI)

“Arjun used to help the family in their farm but he was most interested in mountaineering,” says Kuldeep.

“Our team consisted of government, army, navy and air force people — and some DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation). Some of them have completed basic training and waited up to six years to get a slot for advanced training,” said Rohit Bhatt (21), an ITI-diploma holder from Tehri Garhwal who completed his basic training at NIM last October. Bhat was among the 12 rescued.

According to officials, the 41-member team consisted of 34 trainees and seven instructors. Of the 26 bodies recovered, they say four have been brought to Uttarkashi while the rest are still at the base camp.

According to NIM officials, the climbers came from all over the country: West Bengal, Delhi, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Assam, Haryana, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. “But many of the group were local youths who were interested in mountaineering. All the members were between 25 and 35 years of age,” said an official.

Army personnel moving towards the avalanche site in Uttarkashi to carry out rescue operations, Thursday. PTI via (@suryacommand/Twitter)

Naib Subedar Anil Kumar, one of the rescued trainers, said the 41 were part of an advanced training batch. “Many of those who come for the basic course are people who have never had any mountaineering training. Once basic training is over, sometimes it takes years to get a slot for advanced training,” said another NIM official.

Shashi Bahuguna, a climber who runs Bohemian Adventures in Dehradun, says several clearances are required before a group embarks on a climbing expedition.

“First, we need to book a pick for the given date. We have to pay a fee to the forest department and take permission from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) after giving the details of the climbers. To climb the summit, advanced training is required for most team members at a minimum. Only one person with basic training is allowed per team. A person going on an expedition must be trained in rock climbing, river crossing, snow crafting, ice crafting and rope fixing,” said Bahuguna.

According to officials, the 41-member team consisted of 34 trainees and seven instructors. Of the 26 bodies recovered, they say four have been brought to Uttarkashi while the rest are still at the base camp.

According to officials, the team that was hit by the avalanche was given an enhanced course of 28 days that began on September 14. The final phase of training involves staying at a camp set up near the Dokriani Bamak glacier for about 10 days and then climbing the DKD-2 peak. A base camp was set up for them to climb DKD-2 at 12,600 feet, where climbers have been going for the last 50-55 years,” said an official.

Currently, there are at least six institutes in the country that offer basic and advanced mountaineering courses. But NIM, which trains three-four batches every year, is the only institute that imparts training in rescue operations.

“The NIM courses are mainly for character building and training under extreme conditions,” says Col Ajay Kothial (retd), former principal of the institute.

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