An Indian soldier who was buried under 10 meters of snow for six days on the world’s highest battlefield in Indian-controlled Kashmir is now battling for survival in a hospital, officials said Tuesday.
Hanamanthappa Koppad and nine other soldiers were buried under an avalanche that last Wednesday slammed into an army post at the Siachen Glacier at an altitude of about 5,800 meters.
He was miraculously found alive Monday night by rescue teams searching for the missing soldiers and brought to a hospital in New Delhi where he is in a critical condition. Bodies of the nine other soldiers were recovered.
Koppad was found under at least 7 meters (25 feet) of snow. It is extremely rare for a person to survive under snow for so long.
Indian military commander Lt. Gen. D.S. Hooda said, “We hope the miracle continues. Pray with us.”
Hooda told The Associated Press: "Surprisingly, his oxygen levels seemed OK, and his heartbeat was there."
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Koppad on Tuesday after tweeting that he was bringing prayers of the entire nation.
Avalanches and landslides are common in Kashmir, which is claimed by both India and Pakistan and divided between them, making the ongoing military patrols at the 5,800-meter-altitude (19,000-foot-altitude) glacier particularly dangerous. More Indian and Pakistani troops have died from the grueling conditions than from hostile fire.
Last month, four Indian soldiers were killed by an avalanche while on foot patrol in the same region. In 2012, an avalanche on the Pakistan-controlled part of the glacier killed 140 people, including 129 soldiers.
Hooda described last week's avalanche as "massive," adding that "an entire mountain of rock-solid snow" measuring about 1 square kilometer (half a square mile) "fell on the post and buried it."
The rescue and recovery operation was also difficult "under extremely hostile weather conditions," he said.
Enduring freezing temperatures for days, dozens of rescuers used shovels and chain saws to cut through the ice and snow to reach the buried soldiers.
The 78-kilometer-long Siachen Glacier is located on the line of control that divides India and Pakistan in the disputed region of Kashmir and is claimed by both countries.
Considered one of the world's most dangerous battlefields, soldiers entrenched on both sides have to contend with temperatures that can dip as low as minus-50 degrees Celsius.
The hostile conditions alone have claimed the lives of many soldiers. Several rounds of talks between the two countries on demilitarizing the glacier have been unsuccessful.