Snow freezes hopes of search for crashed MiG-29

Shimla : The search resumed Monday for the wreckage of a MiG-29 combat jet that crashed in Himachal Pradesh but officials say it is a touch-and-go affair with snowfall in the state’s higher Himalayan reaches blotting out possible indicators spotted in aerial surveys. There is no word yet on the pilot.

In the next few weeks, the mountains in the Lahaul-Spiti Valley where the jet crashed Oct 18 will be utterly snowbound and remain cut off from the rest of the country for over four months.

Officials involved in combing operations — both ground and aerial — said Monday search parties have little time because of snow in the region, where most peaks range from 4,000-6,000 metres.

“The last few days of moderate snow in the high hills where the combing has been going on has accumulated a thick layer,” Deputy Superintendent of Police Khajana Ram said. “Now it will be a challenging job to locate the wreckage.”

The local administration has been assisting the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Army in carrying out search operations to locate the main portion of the crashed jet.

Lahaul and Spiti Deputy Commissioner Rajeev Shankar said no combing was carried out Sunday due to continuous snow. “This morning (Monday) the sky is clear and the search has begun,” he said. But blanketing of hills has made treks treacherous.”

The IAF has deployed a Dornier, an AN-32, SU-30 and Chetak and Cheetah helicopters to survey the Chokhang hills, 40 km from district headquarters Keylong.

Some locals last week claimed to have spotted burnt pieces of the aircraft in the hills of Thirot but the search parties have not been able to reach the site due to high winds and snowfall.

“The crash spot has been zeroed in on but overnight snowfall is hampering efforts,” an IAF official said over phone from the spot. “Now, it will take double the effort to locate the wreckage because search parties have to first dig through the snow.”

General Reserve Engineering Force (GREF) commanding officer Praveen Yernurkar, posted in the area, said that most of the mountains in the Lahaul Valley are glaciers.

“Throughout the year you will see some snow in the morning. Now the temperatures have dipped massively and chances of continuous snow are high,” he said. “Even oxygen is quite minimal and high velocity winds start blowing every afternoon.”

GREF is a wing of the Border Roads Organisation that maintains the highway that passes through rugged Himalayan ranges.

An IAF AN-12 aircraft with 102 defence personnel on board crashed on the 17,400-foot-high Dakka Glacier in the Chanderbhaga ranges in Lahaul and Spiti Feb 7, 1968. Only four bodies have been recovered so far in many expeditions till 2009.

The cause of the crash is still a mystery as the plane’s black box has not been recovered.

In July 2003, local trekkers on way to scale the Chanderbhaga ranges spotted a body and some aircraft wreckage. The body had been almost reduced to a skeleton.

A Swedish woman’s frozen body was found on a glacier in Lahaul and Spiti in 2004, almost 25 years after she went missing in the region while trekking.

The Lahaul Valley, comprising more than two dozen small, scattered villages, remains cut off owing to heavy snow accumulation in the Rohtang Pass (13,050 feet), the only connection with Manali in Kullu district, amid temeratures of minus 25 degrees Celsius.


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