ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - An avalanche engulfed a Pakistani military camp near the Indian border on Saturday, burying more than 100 soldiers, with no sign of survivors 15 hours later, the army said.
The snow left by the avalanche was up to 80 feet (25 metres) deep over an area a kilometre wide, state television quoted army spokesman Major-General Athar Abbas as saying.
The soldiers were trapped in one of the most unforgiving environments on earth, at an altitude of 15,000 feet (4,500 metres) near the Siachen Glacier in the Karakoram mountain range.
The area is also one of the world’s most militarily tense frontiers, where the Indian and Pakistani armies have confronted each other over disputed territory for decades.
Radio Pakistan said on its Twitter feed that a “massive” rescue operation was under way to rescue those trapped.
Abbas told Reuters earlier 117 personnel had been stationed in the area. A helicopter rescue team was searching for survivors and sniffer dogs were deployed.
“This happened at six o’clock. These avalanches usually happen at night. It took them by surprise,” said Abbas.
Siachen is in the northern part of the Himalayan region of Kashmir. The no-man‘s-land of Siachen is 20,000 feet (6,000 metres) above sea level. Military experts say the inhospitable climate and avalanche-prone terrain have claimed more lives than gunfire.
Muslim-majority Kashmir is at the heart of hostility between India and Pakistan and was the cause of two of their three full-scale wars.`
Siachen has been described as the world’s highest battlefield. Indian and Pakistani troops have fought at altitudes of over 20,000 feet in temperatures of minus 60 degrees Celsius.
Between 10,000 and 20,000 Indian and Pakistani troops are stationed in the mountains above the glacier.
A tentative peace process is under way, with Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari scheduled to meet Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Sunday, the first visit to India by a Pakistani head of state since 2005.
Additional reporting by Rebecca Conway; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Roche