Fifty years after an AN-12 aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed in the Lahaul valley of Himachal Pradesh with 102 personnel on board while flying from Chandigarh to Leh, a mountaineering expedition has located the body of one of the soldiers on board along with some parts of the aircraft.
The discovery was made by a team of mountaineers who were on a clean-up expedition to the Chandrabhaga-13 peak on July 1. The remains were found at the Dhaka glacier base camp, 6,200 metres above sea level.
“We first found some parts of the aircraft. Subsequently, our team members spotted the decayed body of a soldier a few metres away from the spot,” said team leader Rajeev Rawat.
“Our team took pictures of the body and the plane wreckage, and alerted the Army’s High Altitude Warfare School on July 16, after which their personnel have begun search operations in the area,” Rawat said.
The plane has been the subject of much intrigue over the decades. The Soviet Union-built aircraft with 98 passengers and four crew members had gone missing on February 7, 1968, after the pilot had decided to turn back while approaching Leh due to inclement weather. The plane was over Rohtang Pass when it made its last radio contact.
Thirty-five years later, in 2003, the plane’s wreckage was discovered in the south Dhaka glacier by an expedition of the ABV Institute of Mountaineering and Allied Sports, Manali. The mountaineers also found the remains of a body, subsequently identified as that of Sepoy Beli Ram, an Army man who was on the flight.
Less than three minutes after the pilot had made radio contact with Chandigarh, informing it about its return journey, the aircraft disappeared over the Himalayan ranges.
In August 2007, an Indian Army expedition code named Operation Punaruthan-III recovered three more bodies from the site. From 2003 till 2017, only five bodies of the crash victims have been recovered. It is believed that scores of other bodies of the victims may also be lying in the area.
Rawat, a mountaineer, was leading a team of 11 climbers on the cleanliness expedition, organised by the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF) and Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC).
– The Times of India