Six youths airlifted by Pilots Gerold Biner and Danial Lerjan

A daring rescue by Swiss pilots in Kullu valley
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Two rescued students with Manali SDM Jyoti Rana.

Manali: Having spent over 60 hours amid heavy snowfall and bone chilling cold in slopes of 12,000ft high Chanderkhani pass, eight youths – seven B tech final year students of Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology (SLIET) and their friend from Kullu – have been spotted by Gerold Biner and Danial Lerjan (Pilots of the chopper). Six youth have been airlifted on Sunday evening while two others who are staying in a cave will be airlifted on Monday. All six had gone missing since Friday.

Six youth were airlifted with help of two small choppers of Himalayan Heli Adventure and were dropped at Rumsu village, 27km from here. All six were in tent that was almost covered with thick sheet of snow. The students, according to rescuers, were drenched with snow and rain and were close to falling in condition of frost bite. Five are in better condition but one of them is in want of emergency treatment. Two more youth who were in a cave about 150 metre above the tent could not be lifted as it started snowing and visibility became almost zero. The Swiss pilot dropped food and water packets to the youth and returned back to Manali.

While ground search and rescue teams could not move forward towards Chanderkhani pass due to heavy snowfall in higher reaches, a small chopper that was pressed into service on Sunday morning spotted some footprints on snow. The chopper had to return back to Manali due to bad visibility. The crew, in another sortie, spotted the youths in a valley surrounded by snow. Two choppers then went to airlift them. Only six of them who were in deep valley in tent could be airlifted.

Himalayan Heli Adventure managing director Manjeev Bhalla said, “Initially only one chopper was pressed into service to aerial recce. Later when students were spotted, we decided to send both the choppers as we were seeing more dark clouds coming towards Chanderkhani hill. The Swiss pilots are experts in carrying out such rescue operations even in extreme weather conditions and have saved many lives in past too.”

Six youths — Chetan Shori from Ambala, Saurav Sharma from Ambala, Rohit Kumar from Baghpat, UP, Akshay Kumar Bura from Chamba, Ankush Kumar from Gurdaspur, all final year Btech students in Sant Longowal Institute of Engineering and Technology, Sangrur, Punjab and Bharat Kayth from Kullu have been sent to regional hospital Kullu for treatment. Hitender Sharma from Shimla and Anil Kumar from Hamirpur are still waiting for chopper.

Swiss rescue pilots with Manali magistrate
Swiss rescue pilots with Manali magistrate

Kullu additional deputy magistrate Vinay Singh Thakur said pilot felt it very risky to airlift remaining two students who according to pilot looks medically fit. “They will be airlifted on Monday soon after weather turns clear and pilots get good visibility. The ground search and rescue teams worked hard and small choppers did miracle even in inclement weather,” he said.

Kullu deputy commissioner Hans Raj Chauhan said teams of police, Indo Tibetan Border Police Force, Mountaineering Institute Manali, Himalayan Heli Adventure and local trekkers were searching for the missing students. “We received information about students being stranded in snow on Friday morning and teams were immediately sent to search for them. Unfortunately, the search teams did not find favorable weather and had to face snow, cold and rain. A large chopper of state government failed to get success due to dense mist but small chopper succeeded in finding youths.”

Sanjay Dutta, an engineer by qualification but is a journalist by choice. He has worked for the premier new agency Press Trust of India and leading English daily Indian Express. With more than a decade of experience, he has been highlighting issues related to environment, tourism and other aspects affecting mountain ecology. Sanjay Dutta lives in a village close to Manali in Kullu valley of Himachal.

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