Sadhna Top Accident: The Complete Story

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by Tahir Bhat

SRINAGAR: On Friday, January 5, 2018, snow avalanche hit two vehicles and some pedestrians on Kupwara Tangdhar road near Khoni Nallah at Sadhna Top. It killed nine persons including an infant.

The vehicles were swept away after the area received massive snowfall in the upper reaches. The vehicles were on way to Karnah from Kupwara when the mishap occurred. Two people were rescued on Friday, and another person was found alive after several hours after being swept away by the avalanche.

Volunteers including security men digging in the snow to get the bodies out in a gorge near the Sadha Top, the pass separating Kashmir from Karnah. KL Image: Special Arrangement

In the first incident, two beacon officials traveling in a vehicle came under a snow avalanche adjacent to Sadhna top. One of them was injured and was identified as a sector commander of Beacon identified, MP Singh of 109 RCC. The body of a Border Road Organisation (BRO) officer was found dead under the snow, a long distance away, after he was swept away by the avalanche. He was on duty to clear snow from the stretch of the road.
Another avalanche hit, a Sumo vehicle that was going from Kupwara to Tangdhar. It bore the registration number JK09A/3249. Some pedestrians were also buried under snow near Khoni Nallah at Sadhna Top.

While the details of the accident are harrowing, the details of the rescue are heroic. People lacking all the basic requirements of a rescue in a dangerous terrain fought all odds including sub-zero temperatures and worked whole night and hunted the people out of tons of snow mounds.

Volunteers getting a body out of the huge snow accumulations. KL Image: Special Arrangement

“Soon after the incident, the Joint rescue was launched by the police, the Army, the SDRF and the huge number of civilian population,” an eye-witness told Kashmir Life. “Machinery was put into motion to rescue the missing persons.”

The driver of vehicle JK09-A 3249 Zahoor Ahmad Khan, son of Maqsood Ahmad Khan of Chetarkote, Karnah, and an 8- year-old boy, Suliman, both residents of Karnah tehsil, were rescued immediately after the mishap occurred around 3.30 PM Friday.

On Saturday rescue teams found a 50-year-old man alive in the snow around 3 am in the morning. He was immediately shifted to the hospital for treatment. The survivor was identified as Ghulam Nabi Bhat, son of Ali Mohammed Bhat, a resident of Kalmoona, Kralpora, Kupwara.

Baby are you alive: A volunteer tries detecting a breath in a baby who was killed along with her mother. KL Image: Special Arrangement

On Saturday evening after the 22 hours long rescue operation was declared over after all the bodies of the missing passengers, who were buried under an avalanche, was recovered.

The deceased persons were identified as Abdul Rasheed Wani, headmaster of government-run High school Chamkote, resident of Dildar area of Karnah, Altaf Ahmad Check and Shakeela Akhter both residents of Tangdar, Fazul Hussian Shah, Fareed Hussain Shah and his wife Shazia Begum and Ghulam Hussian Shah all residents of Chamkote and Nahida Bano resident of Gundi Gujra village of Tangdar.

Shafqat Begum, a teacher by profession and her one-year-old child Amina Jan resident of Gundisadia a village of Karnah are among those who died after the avalanche hit the vehicle.

It is not so easy to take the body up to the road. It needs people, shoulders, ropes, raw courage and defying logic. KL Image: Special Arrangement

Reports said that the emotionally charged scene of the deceased mother holding daughter with blood stains on her face in a tight embrace brought tears in eyes of all people present on the spot. It took a little time for the people to separate the two who were seemingly in an eternal embrace.

The road with connects Karnah to Kupwara usually remains closed during winter season.

Karnah is one of Kashmir’s far-flung areas and people there have long been demanding a tunnel to make safe their travel in winter. “Every year, people are losing their lives while crossing this area, said a local who took part in the rescue operation. “We have been demanding a tunnel for the past several decades. But the government cannot hear our demands. Today, we have lost several lives due to the absence of a safe road here.” He said these accidents keep their regular calendar with the population of Karnah belt.

The locals appealed to Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti to issue an order for the construction of a tunnel in the area known as Khooni Nallah.

From shoulders to the vehicle, to the coffin and then to the grave. Residents of Karnah say it has become a perpetual thing with them in absence of a tunnel. KL Image: Special Arrangement

Meanwhile, locals said thousands of people participated in the last rites of the deceased with eyes full of tears and all the area is in grief sorrow.

“All bodies were recovered after a long operation. Locals helped the police and the Army to retrieve the bodies from under heaps of snow in a difficult mountainous terrain,” said Shamsher Hussian, Kupwara’s Superintendent of Police, who headed the rescue operation. “The mangled remains of the vehicle which fell into a 400-feet-deep gorge due to the impact of a massive avalanche were also found. The passengers were thrown out of the vehicle after it rolled down the high-altitude road.”

At least four or five feet of snow has accumulated near the Sadhna Top, which usually witnesses heavy snowfall during winter. Crisis in passing the top is that the track is witnessing massive skids that prove dangerous in wake of speedy winds. Sometimes the winds are so fast and devastating that they upturn the heavy vehicles as well.

Meanwhile, Minister for Disaster Management, Relief Rehabilitation & Reconstruction and Floriculture, Javaid Mustafa Mir has announced compensation under SDRF of Rs 4 lakh each to the next kin of the family of persons who were killed in this tragic incident.

Though the Border Roads Organisation has initiated the process of creating a tunnel that will bypass the perilous Pass, there has not been an adequate follow up to the proposal from the civilian government in Jammu &

Kashmir, locals alleged. The area remains cut from Kashmir and heavily guarded from the PaK, with which it has slightly less cumbersome connectivity. During summers, locals are permitted to cross over to the other side on foot if they have valid permissions.

The top, locally known as Nasta Chun, is at an elevation of 3100 m above sea level and is washed throughout the year by avalanches, landslides, shooting stones and mud washes. Locals said that 6.5 km tunnel will not reduce the 80-kms long distance substantiality, because half of it is dangerously hilly, but will also get the valley around the year connectivity. Some companies were supportive of creating a tunnel and had quoted a price as early as 2012 but there has not been any follow-up, they allege.

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