Comments about technological history, system fractures, and human resilience from James R. Chiles, the author of Inviting Disaster: Lessons from the Edge of Technology (HarperBusiness 2001; paperback 2002) and The God Machine: From Boomerangs to Black Hawks, the Story of the Helicopter (Random House, 2007, paperback 2008)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Deadly Avalanche at Base Ghyari: Fallout from a most peculiar conflict

Regarding the rescue operation that began after an avalanche buried more than a Pakistani troops at the Ghyari base near the Siachen Glacier in Kashmir ... information on the area's history and geography is available at

Here's a map of major Pakistani and Indian bases, from Mangalorean. I marked the avalanche site with a red circle.
This photo is said to be a shot of the base at Ghyari: 
Here's a photo of the vicinity, which is part of the Karakoram Range, from The Telegraph:
Note the helicopter at the center of the photo. 

For those curious about the strange high-altitude war along the Siachen Glacier that lasted from 1984 to 2003, the following is adapted from my book on the social history of helicopters for Random House, The God Machine. Here's a satellite photo, from
The conflict was highest-altitude war in history. While there's been no major fighting there for almost a decade, troops on each sides still hold positions under very difficult conditions, living on ridges in plastic igloos like these:
The dispute originated with a 1949 disagreement over the exact course of the India-Pakistan border where it passed through the old kingdom of Kashmir. The disagreement was academic until an Indian Army officer noticed in 1977 that the Pakistanis were issuing permits for mountaineering parties to climb certain high mountains that India claimed. Now the race was on to control the Siachen Glacier and three high passes.

In a secret mission called Operation Meghdoot (Sanskrit for "Cloud Messenger"), the Indian Army used helicopters to reach the high ground first, in April 1984. Indian troops planted fiberglass igloos at altitudes as high as 22,000 feet in the Saltoro Range forming the west rim of the glacier. 

Most of the fighting was conducted with cannons and mortars, which fired whenever the weather was clear enough to pick out a target. One workhorse was the Indian Air Force's Mi-8:
... which brought supplies and even light cannons to 17,000 feet. Troops dragged the hardware the rest of the way, a few agonizing feet at a time.

While the lower-altitude Pakistanis could depend on trucks and pack animals, Indian forces were totally dependent on helicopters for the last stage of their supply chain, and for lifting out hundreds of men debilitated by the conditions. The machine of choice was the Aerospatiale Lama, along with an Indian-manufactured version called the Cheetah. This photo from BharatRakshak:
For almost 20 years, each side attempted to leapfrog the other, looking for gun emplacements that could shell but not be shelled in return. One solution: the high-altitude helicopter raid. 

In April 1989 a Lama helicopter carried a squad of Pakistani troops one at a time and dropped them onto a saddle-shaped ridge at Chumik Pass, altitude 22,100 feet, allowing them to sneak up on an Indian post.

No comments:

Post a Comment