Soldier rescued in Siachen in coma, battles for life

New Delhi, Feb 9 (IANS) Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad, miraculously rescued from the Siachen glacier after being buried under 35 feet of snow for six days, was in coma and battling for life on Tuesday.

Doctors said the soldier from Karnataka, who along with nine other colleagues of the Madras Regiment had been assumed dead, was in “extremely critical” condition at the Army Research and Referral Hospital here.

The bodies of the other soldiers who too were swept away by an avalanche on February 3 at a height of 20,500 feet on the southern side of the glacier in Jammu and Kashmir were also found, the army said.

The dead included a Junior Commissioned Officer.

A medical bulletin said Koppad, who was flown to Delhi early on Tuesday, was in shock with low blood pressure and was on ventilator in the ICU. The next one or two days were critical for him.

“He has been placed on ventilator to protect his airway and lungs in view of his comatose state,” said the bulletin issued at 4 p.m.

“He remains extremely critical and is expected to have a stormy course in the next 24-48 hours due to the complications caused by re-warming and establishment of blood flow to the cold parts of the body.

“He has pneumonia and his investigations have revealed liver and kidney dysfunction. Fortunately, there was no cold exposure related frost bite or bone injuries to him,” it said.

The soldier, being treated by experts, has been given fluids and drugs to bring up his blood pressure.

President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday lauded the “indomitable spirit” of Koppad. Modi visited the hospital along with army chief General Dalbir Singh.

Mukherjee said in a message to the army chief: “I am happy to know that Koppad has survived the avalanche… I applaud his indomitable spirit and ability to endure adverse conditions.”

Modi tweeted: “No words are enough to describe the endurance and indomitable spirit of Hanumanthappa. He is an outstanding soldier.”

In Karnataka, his distraught family and relatives prayed for his well being.

The soldier was luckily inside an “arctic tent” which possibly aided his survival despite being under the ice sheet, army sources said.

The tent is designed to withstand extreme temperatures and has a fibre-reinforced structure.

While Koppad’s survival is a miracle, doctors say he was possibly trapped in an air pocket which saved him.

“Air pocket created between the snow layers can possibly be a reason for his survival. Also, a strong will power to survive must have acted as an added advantage,” said H.S. Chauhan, president of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

Soldiers posted in harsh icy conditions are trained to look for air pockets in case of an avalanche and know how to clear the snow near the nose and the mouth so that they can keep breathing.

Even six days after the disaster, by which most people feared that none of the 10 soldiers could have survived, the army refused to give up its search operation in a hostile environment.

The efforts paid off late on Monday.

Doctors at the site immediately administered warm intravenous fluids, humidified warm oxygen and passive external re-warming — all of critical importance after the long time spent in the sub-zero environment.

Koppad was then flown out of the site on Tuesday by helicopter, along with a medical specialist, first to the Siachen base camp, then to Thois air base in Ladakh and finally to Delhi.

That’s where the soldier battles on — this time for his life.

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