Sometime in the evening, news came in that a civilian porter had slipped and fallen into a deep crevasse in Siachen Glacier. He was perched on an ice ledge at a depth of approximately 70 feet. His eyes were closed and chin dropped; however, miraculously, he was breathing with great effort and could move his lower limbs slightly. Nima was finally rescued. His survival may be difficult to believe however, it is his mental strength, “never say die” spirit and faith in god that carried him through; it truly was an act of god.
by Lt Gen Rajan Bakhshi (Retd)
Ladakh, the land of the lamas, enjoys a blessed environment with temperatures varying from 20 degrees to minus 60 degrees centigrade. This holy land is majestically enchanting and offers natural beauty of a very different and rare kind. The uniqueness also lies in the fact that it is a high altitude desert (basic height being 11,500 feet), with only 7% oxygen content in the air, compared to the 23-24% that the human body is used to at lower altitudes, thereby making acclimatization inevitable.
Considering the relative rise in ambient temperatures and winds picking up momentum around noon, rotary wing aircraft flying ceases to operate in Ladakh after 12 noon, unless in an emergency. Therefore, whenever the sound of a helicopter is heard after the stipulated time, people in the army bases get concerned, considering it to be an emergency causality evacuation. Those casualties which need greater medical attention and expertise have to be further evacuated by a fixed wing aircraft to Chandimandir (approximately a 45-minute flight).
It was a bright sunny Monday morning in Leh in 2012, with the snow-capped mountains presenting a majestic panoramic view. Sometime in the evening, news came in that a civilian porter had slipped and fallen into a deep crevasse in Siachen Glacier. Other porters at the accident site did their very best to rescue him, however were unable to help Nima Norbu – the porter. It was now getting dark, thus with a deep sense of sorrow and grief, further rescue attempts had to be suspended till the next morning; knowing fully well what result to expect the next day.
The ambient temperature in the area at sun set was around minus 5 degrees centigrade and was expected to further dip to minus 15 degrees. Goodness alone knows what the freezing temperature inside the crevasse would be. Survival for a human body under such extraordinary freezing conditions would certainly be rare and a miracle! The nearest army post was then assigned the task for the rescue mission. With a prayer on their lips, the rescue team commenced its task at 5 am the next day. They had ensured to carry sufficient rope so that they could go as deep inside the crevasse, as required to rescue Nima.
The two soldiers climbing down for the rescue were roped together and descended into the bitterly cold crevasse with due care. Within 15 minutes of their descent, the leading rescuer reached Nima. He was perched on an ice ledge at a depth of approximately 70 feet. His eyes were closed and chin dropped; however, miraculously, he was breathing with great effort and could move his lower limbs slightly. There was a silent cheer in their hearts, nonetheless they knew that time was at premium and they needed to hurry up matters. The rescue operation took 45 minutes and Nima was finally rescued. His survival may be difficult to believe however, it is his mental strength, “never say die” spirit and faith in god that carried him through; it truly was an act of god.
The army immediately despatched a helicopter for his evacuation and Nima arrived at the Garrison Hospital in Leh within 40 minutes from the time he was pulled out of the crevasse; he was now in the best medical hands. He had suffered innumerable injuries with severe frost bite and gangrene infection, to name a few. His medical condition was extremely precarious and doctors had to first stabilize him and then ensure a safe and swift evacuation to a bigger hospital in Chandimandir or Delhi. Nima successfully fought for his life for over 24 hours in Leh and was evacuated by air to Army Hospital, R&R in Delhi Cantonment.
Time kept ticking by and six months had lapsed since Nima was evacuated out of Leh. During this time he had undergone life-saving surgical procedures at Delhi and later fitted with artificial limbs by the Army at Pune. It was on a cold winter day that the air in Leh recharged itself with gaiety, enthusiasm and religious fervour – Nima had just landed in Leh from Delhi, looking physically fit and mentally robust, with no tell-tale signs of the tragic fall.
A joint civil-military reception was organised and it was a rare honour and privilege to speak with him while he recalled his near death experience. The army facilitated him for the outstanding services he had rendered and ensured his subsequent rehabilitation. Life had taken a full circle for Nima and surely he had learnt the true meaning of destiny and life…A MIRACLE INDEED!
Veteran Lt Gen Rajan Bakhshi is a former Cavalry officer, who had commanded the Leh-based 14 Corps from June 2012 to June 2013. He considers himself to be fortunate to have served in a High Altitude (HA) region despite being from the Armoured Corps. His last appointed was that of the Army Commander, Central Command, before he retired in November 2015, after 40 years of service.
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