Tragedy at Thangu, North Sikkim, 31 March 1998
The recent tragedy at Sonam Post in Siachen brought to my mind memories of a similar, but bigger tragedy at Thangu, North Sikkim on 31 Mar 1998. My search on the internet gave me very little information. The information given in the blog relies almost totally on my memory. The blog highlights as to how much things have changed in 18 years and also that such tragedies are a part of Army life.
Thangu Transit Camp was the second stage acclimatization camp for troops operating in the Tibet Plateau region of North Sikkim.31 Mar 1998 was an unusually bright sunny day at Thangu. It was very windy (nothing unusual). There had been heavy snowfall in recent days (nothing unusual). The combination of bright Sunshine coupled with the heavy wind proved to be a fatal combination for Thangu Transit Camp. We did not experience a conventional avalanche. A heavy mass of snow got cut out by the strong Sunlight and got blown by the strong wind. This mass of snow came and buried the entire transit camp. My memory tells that over 30 Defence personnel died in the tragedy. The figure available from the internet is much lower.
We had a case of a unique survival in this tragedy. One soldier, buried under the snow, stayed alive because a table and a suitcase created air space for him to sit. He ate snow to remain hydrated for 3 days. Fortunately for him the dozer operator who was removing snow from the area spotted his raised arm and stopped the dozer and he was rescued by manual digging. He not only survived the avalanche, but also escaped the risk of being crushed by the dozer. The soldier survived but took time to recover from the psychological trauma he had undergone.
I was located about 20 km South of the Thangu Transit Camp and was involved in the rescue effort. 3 days later, when telephone communication was restored I spoke to my wife and family. I was thinking that they would be relieved to know that I was alive and would have been greatly worried. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that they did not even know that such a tragedy had occurred! The item was not news worthy for TV/radio news or central newspapers. There was no social media. How different it is today, 18 years later!
Our Defence Minister, George Fernandes, arguably the best Defence Minister in independent India’s history, visited us and energized the rescue operations.
Conclusion: Thangu Tragedy
Transmission of information has been revolutionised since then. Not only India, but the whole world knows about the tragedy. Hanumanthappa has become a household name. As regards the name of the survivor of the Thangu tragedy, even I do not remember his name!
A fact remains that so many of Defence personnel risk lives on a daily basis, due to natural disasters, weather and of course enemy and terrorist actions.
Request: There would be others who would be having knowledge of this tragedy. I request them to share the details please.