New Delhi, August 21, 2012: Indian Air Force Helicopter once again proved their mettle and evacuated German national Dr Steger Helmut Otto, who was a part of a mountaineering expedition consisting of Swiss and German nationals, from the higher reaches of Himalayan ranges, from a camp on the slopes of Nun Peak, 7135 Mts is one of the highest in the Ladakh region.
On the evening of 18 Aug 12 the Leh based IAF Helicopter Unit, nicknamed “Siachen Pioneers”, received a request for casualty evacuation from the mountaineering team attempting to climb the Nun peak. The team feared to have lost two of its guides in an avalanche and one member of the team was gravely injured, just few hundred feet away from the summit. The information available for evacuation was sketchy, immediately the Commanding Officer called for the most experienced available aircrew to start planning, which is extremely difficult when data available is limited. Considering the high altitude, high temperatures, treacherous terrain and non-availability of exact location, altitude and the prevailing cloudy weather condition, to evacuate a casualty that could be anywhere between 23000’ to 19000’, is an onerous task. High level of uncertainties give rise to that many more possibilities and contingencies, on reaching the area while flying the machine at the same time, decisions have to be taken in the nick of the time. With not enough time left before sunset, decision was taken to launch the rescue effort at sunrise next morning (19 August, Sunday).
A two-helicopter rescue team got airborne at 0545 hrs on 19 August. The rescue team was led by the Commanding Officer, Wg Cdr UKS Bhadauria himself and included Wg Cdr PS Babu, Wg Cdr AS Rajput and Sqn Ldr AK Bharmoria. Expecting the elevations to be in excess of 21000 ft, the helicopters reached the expedition site area. The team soon realized that coordinates provided were grossly out from the actual location. This is a common error in rescue missions for a number of understandable reasons. Not sure of the position of casualty and deteriorating weather in the area, left only a small window of time for rescue before onset of full WHITEOUT conditions ( it’s like flying inside a ping pong ball with no external cues for pilots),it would force abandoning of mission. Here, experience of the aircrew came in handy, helicopters first started combing the peak from top for picking up the avalanche site at 23000 feet, which is the extreme limit of their AIRCRAFT FLIGHT ENVELOPE, thereafter flying downwards they made contact with the foot tracks made by the mountaineers on the snow surface. The helicopter formation picked up the location of the casualty at one of the camps by following the snow trail and proceeded for landing at that the camp site. This called for the Captain, Wg Cdr UKS Bhadauria to put to fore his extensive flying experience in manoeuvring the aircraft so as to carry out the landing at 19000 feet on an unprepared and snow covered surface. In the meanwhile, the second helicopter Captained by Wg Cdr AS Rajput maintained a close vigil from the top and continued orbiting overhead and monitored the situation, to ensure the safety of both the casualty and the machine. After picking up the casualty who had survived a fall of approximately 300 feet at the summit and was stuck on his fixed rope with few broken ribs and head injury, the formation set course and landed back at Leh at 0845h. Continuing with the Unit tradition, the “Siachen Pioneers” crew displayed highest level of professionalism, courage daring without fearing for their own safety, leading to successful completion of the mercy mission which was more than evident from the convincing smile of the survivor, Dr Steger Helmut Otto.
When the team of two helicopters was daring the uncharted valleys, Air Cmde S P Wagle VM, Air Officer Commanding AFS Leh, ensured that all necessary services worked in sync towards successful execution of this mission.