Siachen Glacier
The Siachen Glacier, north of Indian state of Jammu and KashmirReuters

The only survivor of the Siachen glacier avalanche in northern India is critical and fighting for life at a hospital in New Delhi. The avalanche that struck at 19,600 feet near the de facto border with Pakistan on 3 February, has claimed the lives of nine Indian soldiers.

Lance Naik Hanamanthappa was rescued alive beneath nearly 25 metres of snow after lying buried for nearly six days. Bodies of remaining nine soldiers were recovered and a rescue operation involving 150 army personnel and two canines was called off, General DS Hooda from the army's northern command said.

"Lance Naik Hanamanthappa has displayed unmatched mental robustness and firm will," a statement by the Indian Army said. "General Dalbir Singh, COAS (Chief of the Army Staff) visited the brave-heart at Army Hospital (Research & Referral) today (9 Februray in New Delhi) where he is under expert medical care. All ranks of Indian Army pray for his early and full recovery," the statement added.

Hanamanthappa, a soldier of the Madras Regiment, was found with a weak pulse and was severely dehydrated. According to officials, he survived in an air pocket created after a 1km wide and 800m high ice wall crashed on an army post. However, to be alive in temperatures varying anywhere between -35C and -50C is miraculous.

"Even if he [Hanamanthappa] was lucky, it requires tremendous mental robustness to survive in such conditions for over five days," a senior officer who has served in the Siachen Glacier-Saltoro Ridge region told the Times of India. "I have not witnessed such a thing before," he said.

Hanamanthappa is a practitioner of yoga that may have helped him survive in such unfavourable conditions, an officer said. "We have been told he used to not only practice yoga himself but also help fellow soldiers with their breathing exercises. Medical science can perhaps explain better but we believe yoga perhaps had a role to play in his being able to survive in those conditions,'' a senior officer posted in the 14 Corps told Mail Today.

"It is unbelievable. In Siachen if you are exposed to nature for more than four hours without taking adequate precautions, chances of survival are slim. There has never before been an instance of a soldier having survived being buried in snow and ice for five days," he added.

According to yoga guru Baba Ramdev, those who practice yoga not only have stronger lungs but also their body utilises oxygen better in extreme high altitude conditions, where less amount of oxygen is available in the atmosphere.

"Yoga plays a very important role in controlling your breathing especially in high altitude areas and is also important in the mental and spiritual toughening of a soldier," Lt Gen (retd) Ved Chaturvedi, former director general of Armed Forces Medical Service, was quoted as saying.