Saturday, Mar 08, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
The Defence Minister, George Fernandes, who was in Leh during the day, had a ringside view of the IAF's evacuation operations taking place along the Leh-Nubra highway, said to be among the world's highest roads. Unseasonal snowfall had blocked the Khardungla pass, stranding several civilians and prompting the State Government to approach the IAF for assistance.
The IAF pressed into service two Mi-17 and one Mi-26 which evacuated over 200 stranded people from their vehicles.
The Mi-17 has a carrying capacity of 12 to 18 depending on the temperature and altitude while the giant Mi-26 can carry 40 to 60 persons. The choppers are basically running shuttle services from Leh to Thois.
The air force was encountering a more challenging situation in the Garhwal hills of Uttaranchal where the altitude is not that forbidding but the weather is stated to be harsher.
The IAF is operating near Joshimath where at least half-a-dozen Indo Tibetan Border Police personnel have died in avalanches. As the helicopters one Mi-17 and Cheetah were unable to land, the air force air dropped a doctor along with emergency supplies. It will consider evacuation operations tomorrow if the weather improves.
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