How an Indian soldier survived six days trapped inside avalanche

Hanamanthappa Koppad was rescued Monday night after spending nearly a week trapped under the snow. What helped him survive?

Mountain rescue service personnel search for Czech skiers who were trapped in an avalanche in a valley of the Tyrolian municipality of Wattenberg, Austria, Saturday. Five people were killed when a 'massive' avalanche struck skiers from the Czech Republic taking part in a freeriding camp, police said.

An Indian soldier trapped in an avalanche in the Himalayan region of Kashmir, may have survived because of a tent – buried alongside him – that created an air pocket allowing him to breathe under the snow, for six days.

The soldier, Hanamanthappa Koppad, found conscious and disoriented on Monday night, was pulled out of the snow along with the bodies of nine other soldiers, officials said Tuesday.

The officers were trapped when an enormous avalanche slammed into an Indian army post, on the northern end of Siachen Glacier, the highest point along the heavily militarized line of control between India and Pakistan, last Wednesday.

Avalanches and landslides are common in Kashmir, during winter, when temperatures can drop to -76 degrees Fahrenheit. More Indian and Pakistani troops have died from harsh weather on the glacier than in combat since India seized control of the region. Last month, four Indian soldiers were killed by an avalanche while on foot patrol in the same region, and in 2012, an avalanche on the Pakistan-controlled part of the glacier killed 140 people, including 129 soldiers.

The rescue came just two days after five skiers from the Czech Republic, taking part in a free-riding camp, were killed when a massive avalanche struck in the Austrian Alps.

Hikers and mountain workers can take steps to avoid the slopes during conditions are likely to produce avalanches, however, the phenomenon can be highly unpredictable and difficult to avoid entirely. 

For those heading into the snowy backcountry, there are a few precautions that can mean the difference between life or death in the event of an avalanche.

There are three basic must-have items for anyone venturing into risky territory: an avalanche rescue beacon, a shovel and probe, and a first aid kit. Training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) can be helpful as well. Other items include avalanche airbag backpacks. The backpacks have become popular, and can provide safety by deploying airbags, similar to those used in cars and are crucial for keeping people near the surface of the snow. The bags are are said to roughly double a person's chance at surviving an avalanche.

According to the Utah Avalanche Center, most victims tend to die from carbon dioxide poisoning as a result of their own breath building up around them in the snow. The center advises clearing an airspace in front of your mouth when buried.

Remain near the surface is very crucial, because 93 percent of avalanche victims can be recovered alive if they are dug out within the first 15 minutes, and the the survival rate drops to 20-30 percent after 45 minutes. If you are being swept away, try keeping your head out and swimming as hard as you can in the direction of the moving snow. If the snow’s moving too fast and swimming is not possible, thrash around so that you don’t sink.

A number of free educational resources that cover a range of safety basics can be found online, and a list of avalanche centers that offer education near your location can be found here.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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