Uttarkashi avalanche: 'If we had few seconds to think, we could have saved more lives...'
Rohit Bhatt was among the mountaineers who were struck by the massive avalanche on mount Draupadi ka Danda-II in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi on Tuesday morning. Now recuperating at the district hospital in Uttarkashi, he spoke to Asianet Newsable's Anish Singh about the ordeal that he and 40 other mountaineers endured.
"If we had got even 10 seconds of time, we could have saved more lives..." said Rohit Bhatt, one of those who survived the massive avalanche that hit mount Draupadi ka Danda-II in Uttarakhand's Uttarkashi on Tuesday morning.
Today recuperating at the district hospital in Uttarkashi, Rohit spoke to Asianet Newsable over the phone and narrated the ordeal that he, along with 40 others, endured when the avalanche struck.
Rohit, who hails from Uttarakhand, is one of the trainees undergoing the Advance Mountaineering Course at the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering. "We embarked on our summit at 3-3:30 am on Tuesday. We were 34 trainees and seven instructors. The avalanche hit us when we had reached 5,500 meters, which was just 100-150 meters away from the final destination at 8-8:30 am," Rohit said.
Image: Photograph from the day the avalanche struck mount Draupadi ka Danda-II
"The avalanche was so massive that we did not even get any time to think of anything. Within minutes everything turned white due to snow. Many of our fellow trainees and instructors got entrapped in the debris," he said.
The mountaineers did not even get two seconds to react. Two trainees and some instructors were at a slightly higher ground while the remaining mountaineers and other instructors followed. The avalanche swept the mountaineers away. They fell into a 60-feet deep gorge. Rohit, too was caught in it. His ice axe saved him.
Rohit recalled, "The same day, (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering instructors) Anil sir, Negi sir, SI sir and I recovered the bodies of Savita Kanswal, an Everester, and Naumi Rawat (also instructors with NIM) and two trainees. We also rescued three trainee mountaineers and one person from the skiing department from the avalanche site."
He thanked NIM for extending every possible assistance in rescuing the injured mountaineers. "Our organization sent all people from advance and basic courses to rescue us. Many porters have also helped us," he said, adding, "Next morning, the ITBP personnel airlifted us to their base camp and then shifted us to the district hospital in Uttarkashi."
The avalanche occurred at 8:45 am on Tuesday when they were just 150 meters away from their summit. Thanking the almighty, Rohit said, "We had nothing to eat because the material we had carried was swept away. Since yesterday (when the avalanche struck), we have had nothing. If we had a few seconds to think, we could have saved more lives. The weather was clear, and whatever happened, that was sudden."
Watch this chilling video taken some moments before the avalanche struck mount Draupadi ka Danda-II
In a Facebook post, the Uttarakhand Police stated that it had recovered ten bodies and search and rescue operations were underway to locate the other missing mountaineers. Out of 41, 16 are still missing. The state administration has also listed 16 other mountaineers who were safe at the base camp. These mountaineers could not proceed toward the summit along with others as they suffered from hypertension and blood pressure-related issues.
Chandrashekhar Patel, who was among the 16 trainees at the base camp, told Asianet Newsable: "We are now heading towards the institute. We were safe at the base camp."
State Disaster Response Force, Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Indian Air Force have been conducting a joint operation to locate the missing mountaineers. The team had called off the operations around 4 pm due to bad weather. Meanwhile, the Indian Army has sent teams of skilled mountaineers. The Indian Air Force has deployed two helicopters from Sarsawa and one from Bareilly for the operation.