SONAMARG: Severe weather conditions prevailing in Jammu & Kashmir since last ten days took a serious turn on 22 Feb 12, when a series of avalanches hit the area of Sonamarg. At approximately 1400 hours on 23 Feb 2012, Divisional Commissioner Kashmir approached the Army for assistance to rescue two individuals who had ventured out from Sonamarg on foot towards Gund, had come under an avalanche and had taken shelter under the Shitkari Bridge.
On 23 Feb 2012, two foot patrols were launched consisting of specialised troops. However, heavy snow fall and major avalanche activities in the area thwarted all efforts of the patrol to reach the distressed villagers. Brig Neeraj Seth, braving all odds, tried to locate the villagers with an Army Aviation helicopter. However, the blizzard was so severe in the area that this attempt was also abandoned.
The efforts to locate the individuals recommenced on 24 Feb 12 once weather opened up. Army and civil administration requested the Air Force for helicopters. Air Force Pilots with excellent navigational skills and with the help of specialised troops on board finally were able to locate the villagers. However, it was found that in addition to the two stranded villagers there were additional seven villagers who were present in the area.
As the winching of all the nine villagers was impossible, Maj Khati who was in the Air Force helicopter was dropped on the site near the Shitkari Bridge. He gathered all the villagers; prepared a make shift helipad by beating snow, where the helicopter landed and all villagers were rescued by carrying out three sorties.
Wing Commander Vikram Singh and Flight Lieutenant Ranjeet Desai of the Air Force were instrumental in carrying out the rescue. At Sonamarg they were given immediate first aid for cold injuries and were provided hot refreshments. The civilians who were without food and water for over three days and badly shaken by the ordeal thanked Allah, Air Force and the Army for their dedication and devotion. The civilians after initial management at Sonamarg were further evacuated for specialised medical treatment.
Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir and the Awam thanked the Army and Air Force for saving nine precious lives during a reception organised at Ganderbal on 24 Feb 12, soon after the operation.