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HAWS retrieves bodies of 3 soldier mountaineers buried under avalanche in Ladakh last year during expedition

Last Updated on July 10, 2024 at 6:03 pm

In an extraordinary display of courage and camaraderie, the mountaineers of the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) have undertaken a heroic mission to recover the mortal remains of their fallen comrades. This operation, launched to retrieve the bodies of three Havildar instructors, epitomizes the indomitable spirit of the Indian Army’s elite training institution.

*Background: A Fateful Expedition*

In July 2023, a 38-member mountaineering expedition from HAWS set out to conquer Mount Kun in the Union Territory of Ladakh. The expedition commenced on 01 October 2023 and the team hoped to conquer Mount Kun by 13 October 2023. The treacherous terrain and unpredictable weather in this glaciated region posed immense challenges. While fixing ropes on a snow wall, the team was struck by a sudden avalanche on 08 October 2023 at a height of over 18,300 ft, between Camp 2 and Camp 3 on the Fariabad Glacier. Four members were caught in the deadly slide. The expedition team made all endeavours to rescue the team members, who fell in the crevasse and got buried under large volume of snow and courageously laid down their lives in true spirit of adventure and quest. Despite valiant efforts, the team could only recover the mortal remains of *Lance Naik Stanzin Targais*. The bodies of *Havildar Rohit, Havildar Thakur Bahadur Ale, and Naik Gautam Rajbanshi* remained trapped deep within a crevasse, buried under layers of snow and ice.

*Operation RTG (Rohit, Thakur, Gautam) : The Quest to Bring Them Home*

Refusing to leave their brothers behind, HAWS launched a meticulously planned rescue mission, codenamed *Operation RTG*, on June 18, 2024. The mission was named in honour of the missing soldiers—Rohit, Thakur, and Gautam. The Rescue Expedition consisted of 88 expert mountaineers who against all odds, had set out to rescue the mortal remains of their fallen comrades.

A road head camp was established about 40 kms short of Khumbathang, for deposition of specialised mountaineering and rescue equipment, special clothing, survival kits, tents, meals, etc. Two helicopters were also placed on standby to ferry the mortal remains of the bravehearts and for evacuation of rescue team, if need be.

A Base Camp was established at a distance of approximately 13 Kms from the road head at a height of about 14790ft. Maj Gen Bruce Fernandez, Commandant, HAWS, stationed himself at Base Camp, overseeing the rescue efforts.

Brigadier SS Shekhawat, the Deputy Commandant of HAWS, personally led the search operation, emphasizing the mission’s importance.

The incident site was approximately 3 Kms from the Base camp. The rescue team faced formidable challenges at an altitude of 18,300 feet. They established a forward base camp on June 25, 2024, with two intermediate camps for acclimatization. Equipped with satellite phones, special tents, and advanced tools, and supported by dedicated helicopters stationed 20 km away, every precaution was taken to ensure the safety of the search party.

*A Glimmer of Hope*

The first significant breakthrough came when the mortal remains of Havildar Rohit Kumar (Dogra Scouts) were found about 30 ft of a snow and ice in the crevasse on 04 July 24. The mortal remains were transported to Kumbathang by helicopter. With renewed resolve, the team, braving challenges posed by extremities of cold and terrain, went 10 ft deeper in the crevasse, where mortal remains of Havildar Thakur Bahadur Ale (Gorkha Rifles) was recovered on 07 July 24. Search continued for the mortal remains of Naik Gautam Rajbanshi (Assam Regiment), as the team’s resolve to bring their comrades home remained unwavering.  Mission aim was finally accomplished on 08 July 24, as the mortal remains of all three trapped soldiers were recovered and no Team Member was left behind.

The mortal remains have been transported to respective families, with full military honours, bringing closure to the loved ones, who had patiently waited to bid a final farewell to the bravehearts.

*The Spirit of HAWS*

The operation exemplifies the core values of HAWS and the Indian Army—the relentless pursuit of excellence, unwavering commitment to comrades, and the ethos of leaving no man behind. With the Operation RTG meeting all tasks it had set out for, the nation stands in solidarity with the brave soldiers of HAWS, honouring their courage and dedication.

The extraordinary efforts of HAWS serve as a poignant reminder of the sacrifices made by our armed forces and the unbreakable bonds forged in the crucible of duty and honour.