Avalanche buries army base near LoC, kills 17 soldiers

Seventeen soldiers, including one officer, training for high-altitude warfare were killed when a massive avalanche slammed into an Army training centre based on a high slope near north Kashmir ski resort of Gulmarg on Monday. The rolling snow swept away one of the barracks of the Army’s High Altitude Warfare School, which houses around 450 soldiers in the Khilanmarg mountains close to Gulmarg, at 11am.

"We have 17 dead and 17 injured. The rest were rescued unhurt. No one is missing and rescuers have returned to their bases," said the Army spokesperson, Lt Col J S Brar. He said around 70 soldiers got trapped under the snow. "The Gulmarg Development authority and our sister services assisted the Army in its rescue operations."

Lt Col Brar said the officer killed was Lt Prateek. "The avalanche hit the base during a training session and was one of the worst to hit the area in years. The injured were admitted and later discharged from a Srinagar base hospital."

Jammu & Kashmir’s disaster management unit had on Friday issued an avalanche alert and warned people against venturing out in high-altitude areas.

The avalanche swept away one of four sub-camps used for training operations at the school, the Army’s main mountain warfare training institute at an altitude of 2,730 metres. The school was first set up as a skiing training institute for a frontline infantry division in 1948.

Earlier, authorities activated all resources and flew in rescuers from Srinagar and Baramulla to rescue the trapped soldiers. Incessant snow, rain,poor visibility and high winds hampered their operations. The met office said Gulmarg, a major draw for foreign tourists and adventure skiers, had received around 10-feet snow since Friday.

Frequent rain and heavy snowfall often trigger avalanches and landslides in Kashmir, blocking roads and cutting off tourist resorts like Gulmarg. Gulmarg is also close to the LoC.

Last year in April, seven soldiers were killed and eight others injured when an avalanche hit an Army post at Gurez along the LoC in April last year.

Officials said around 400 tourists skiing in Gulmarg, boasting thousands of metres of relatively unrestricted and natural skiing, were safe.

The number of domestic and foreign skiers has grown in recent years as militant violence in the region has eased off.

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