On February 3, 10 Indian soldiers were hit by an avalanche at an altitude of 19,600 feet. The incident highlights the extreme risks that soldiers face in manning the inhospitable terrain under extreme weather conditions on the world’s highest battlefield. More than 200 soldiers worked round the clock for five days looking for survivors after the ice wall came crashing down on the 19 Madras post in the northern glacier. The rescue team could not believe their eyes when they found Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad alive.
Hanamanthappa stayed alive for six days buried under 35 feet of snow in -45°Celsius temperature. Miracle is not an accepted word in the Science world but what else can describe the recovery of Hanamanthappa!
Let’s understand scientific expectations under such circumstances. Were one to be trapped in an avalanche and rescued within the first 15 minutes, there is a 92 per cent chance of survival. However, just 15 minutes more, and those odds drop to 35 per cent and to 1 per cent in 130 minutes, according to a study of ski-accident survivors by biostatistician Markus Falk of the University Of Innsbruck, Austria, and his colleagues. What makes his survival more astounding is that most of these calculations are on people buried no more than 10 feet, and Hanamanthappa was reportedly buried 35 feet below.
“Coming back from Siachen is like getting a second lease of life,” says Havildar Mittu (retired) from the Madras Regiment, recalling his two stints at Siachen Glacier. May be that explains the most adverse conditions our soldiers work to protect our border at Siachen. “It is medically not possible to live in those conditions beyond three months. During that period, we lived on eating ready-to-eat food, chocolates and dry fruits, most of which are airdropped. On those days that they were not airdropped, we had to walk up to the next link, which those four people were also doing,” he narrated.
“The biggest challenge in Siachen is survival,” echoed Col. Prateek Seth (retired.) from the Parachute Regiment, who served in the glacier in 1992, referring to temperatures that dipped below -50 degrees Celsius. “If there were snow blizzards, it reduced the temperatures further. Even breathing is a problem there and the lack of oxygen and the cold makes you eat much lesser. We come back after suffering weight loss and have to gain that strength back,” he said.
Hanamanthappa has served in difficult and challenging areas for 10 out of 13 years of his total service. His postings include Jammu and Kashmir from 2003 to 2006, where he was actively involved in counter-insurgency operations. He again volunteered to serve with the 54 Rashtriya Rifles (Madras) in Jammu and Kashmir from 2008 to 2010, and later in the northeast from 2010 to 2012 where he took part in operations against militants. He was serving in the high-altitude areas of Siachen glacier from August 2015.
After the rescue team found Hanamanthappa, the 33-year-old soldier of the 19th Battalion of Madras Regiment was flown down to Delhi’s Army Research and Referral Hospital on Tuesday 9th February to Delhi in an IAF aircraft accompanied by a critical care specialist of the force and a medical specialist from the base camp. His health was critical but survival news gave a chance to family members to cheer.
Moved by the inspiring real-life story of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa Koppad, many people volunteered to donate a kidney to save the brave soldier like a housewife Nidhi Pandey from Uttar Pradesh, Retired CISF head constable Prem Swaroop from Delhi, Indian Navy’s ex-sailor S.S. Raju.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after visiting the brave soldier at the hospital: “No words are enough to describe the endurance & indomitable spirit of Lance Naik Hanamanthappa. He is an outstanding soldier.”
There were many prayers and special havans were conducted across the country by various religious and cultural groups for speedy recovery of Hanamanthappa. The whole country was united together wishing and praying for his survival but God showed us our human limitation.
He battled for life for two days in the hospital, but eventually breathed his last at 11:45 AM on Thursday 11th February. His condition steadily deteriorated due to multiple organ failure despite aggressive therapy and supportive care. Hanamanthappa was being treated by a team of Army Hospital doctors comprising critical care specialists, HoD Dept of Medicine, senior nephrologist, senior neurologist and a panel of experts from AIIMS, New Delhi.
Army veterans and even those who were earlier posted at the Siachen for several years were unable to imagine how a soldier could survive after he is been buried under the ice tomb for almost six days. He was said to be alive because of yoga and a lucky air pocket. Senior Army Officer told that he used to not only practice yoga himself but also help fellow soldiers with their breathing exercises. Medical science can perhaps explain better but it is believed yoga perhaps had a role to play in his being able to survive in those conditions.
“Yoga plays a very important role in controlling your breathing especially in high altitude areas and is also important in the mental and spiritual toughening of a soldier,” says Lt Gen (retd) Ved Chaturvedi, former Director General of Armed Forces Medical Service. “It defies logic. I was posted at the Siachen glacier at the same spot near the sheer ice wall. According to Yoga guru Baba Ramdev, “There is no such thing as a miracle. In extreme high altitude conditions those who practice yoga not only have stronger lungs but also their body utilizes oxygen better even when lesser amount of oxygen is available in the atmosphere.”
“He leaves us sad & devastated. RIP Lance Naik Hanamanthappa. The soldier in you remains immortal. Proud that martyrs like you served India.” Tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Indian Army Chief Dalbir Singh Suhag condoled the death of the Lance Naik saying, “Hanamanthappa will continue to inspire generations in the Indian Army.”
Lance Naik Hanamanthappa, who is survived by his wife and two-year-old daughter, was youngest in the farming family in Betadur village, Kundagol taluk, Dharwad district, Karnataka. He always wanted to join the Army. He came up the hard way, attending the high school at Aralikatti village by walking 6 km every day. And, despite being rejected thrice in the Army recruitment rallies, he kept on trying and finally managed to get into the 19 Madras Regiment 14 years ago. Just a day before the avalanche, he had called his family and inquired about all of family members recalls his eldest brother.
Ever since the two militaries began a costly engagement on the glacier, there have been numerous efforts by India and Pakistan to find a way to demilitarize the glacier. In June 1989, they came very close to clinching a final deal but could not materialize. The second chance of reaching to a resolution of the dispute was in 1992. Indeed, the 1992 understanding, which never became an agreement, was very close to what India has been demanding: Pakistan had agreed to record the existing troop positions in an annexure to the demilitarisation agreement. But the Congress government in Delhi and later the Pakistan People’s Party government in Pakistan developed cold feet and abandoned the idea. Ever since then, India and Pakistan have tried diplomatically to find a way to demilitarize the region.
Salute to the breavehearts the 10 soldiers who sacrificed their lives while protecting the country. When we sleep covering a warm blanket or even abuse the motherland at JNU campus, let’s remember the sacrifice of these patriots firsts.
Isn’t it an irony that when 9 soldiers died at the Siachen glacier protecting the motherland and one braveheart was fighting with death in a hospital in Delhi, in same city at JNU campus anti-national elements were loudly shouting slogans abusing motherland and glorifying terrorists! Brave defeated avalanche in Siachen but died in Delhi. Maybe he couldn’t stand traitors abusing India in JNU campus in Delhi.
I pray for eternal peace and sadgati of the departed souls of Hanamanthappa and his colleagues . I pray to the God to grant the divine souls of sons of Bharatmata a place at his Lotus feet and courage to the family to overcome the loss. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.