A mountaineering expedition has located the wreckage and mortal remains of a victim who, along with 98 army personnel and four crew members, was killed in an Indian Air Force (IAF) aircraft crash in Himachal Pradesh’s icy terrain 50 years ago, officials said on Saturday.
The IAF AN-12 aircraft crashed on the 17,400-feet high Dhakka Glacier in the Chanderbhaga ranges of Lahaul and Spiti district on February 7, 1968. Despite several search operations, only four bodies could be recovered so far. The last one was of a soldier that was recovered by an Indian Army expedition on August 22, 2013.
“We first found some parts of an aircraft. Subsequently, our team members spotted the decayed body of a soldier a few metres away from the spot,” said a media report quoting Rajeev Rawat, the team leader of the mountaineers who were on a clean-up expedition of the Chanderbhaga glacier.
He said they alerted the Army’s High Altitude Warfare School on July 16, which began its search operations in the area.
Last time, an Indian Army expedition on August 22, 2013, recovered the mortal remains of a non-commissioned officer, Hav Jagmail Singh of Corps of EME.
An identity disk, an insurance policy and a letter from his family retrieved from his pocket helped identify him, an official statement by the Chandimandir-based Western Command headquarters had said on recovery of the mortal remains of Hav Jagmail Singh.
The aircraft had taken off from Chandigarh for Leh. Halfway, pilot Flight Lt H K Singh decided to turn back due to the inclement weather over Jammu and Kashmir, the Western Command headquarters had said.
The last radio contact was near the Rohtang Pass and thereafter the aircraft appeared to have vanished into thin air.
The disappearance remained a mystery until 2003 when an expedition team accidentally discovered the debris at the Dhakka Glacier. The Indian Army in 2013 embarked on another expedition to try and locate the mortal remains of its fallen comrades and to also recover the flight data recorder (black box).
The expedition of the Dogra Scouts of the Western Command comprised the finest mountaineers of the country, including an Everester.
“The glacier where the operations are underway lies at an altitude of approximately 17,000-18,000 feet, is avalanche-prone and dotted with innumerable crevasses. The site itself is at an 80 degree gradient from the base camp,” the statement had said.
The high wind velocities and sub-zero temperatures restrict the search window to about 15-20 days a year and that too only for a few hours during the day, it added.