Pakistani soldiers, tied to each other for safety in hostile weather conditions, carry their weapons some time in June 1999 as they cross a snowy field on the Siachen Glacier in Pakistan.
Pakistani soldiers, tied to each other for safety in hostile weather conditions, carry their weapons some time in June 1999 as they cross a snowy field on the Siachen Glacier in Pakistan.

It is now feared that up to 135 Pakistani soldiers are dead in the massive avalanche that hit their military settlement at Siachen glacier on Saturday morning.

"124 Pakistani soldiers and 11 civilians were missing after 21m (70ft) of snow engulfed a military camp near the Siachen glacier on Saturday," the BBC quoted military spokesman Maj Gen Athar Abbas as saying.

The soldiers are from the Northern Light Infantry regiment, which is trained in mountain operations.

Though the Pakistani military launched large scale search operations with the help of hundreds of soldiers, military helicopters, sniffer dogs, bulldozers, engineers and medical teams, it did not get any indication of survivors so far.

Search operations had to be temporarily called off late on Saturday because of the difficult terrain, darkness, poor visibility and inclement weather. The rescue operation is expected to take several days.

The avalanche hit the Pakistani battalion headquarters in Gayari on the glacier and the soldiers were buried under 70 feet of snow. The camp was located at an altitude of 15,000ft (4,572 m) and Saturday's avalanche covered an area of 1 sq km (0.39 sq m).

Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani expressed shock at the tragedy. In a statement he said the incident would in no way undermine the high morale of soldiers and officers.

The Siachen glacier is the northern part of Kashmir where India and Pakistan have military bases. The high altitude of the terrain and harsh weather has made it the most expensive and highest battle ground in the world.

India and Pakistan have fought two out of the three wars since 1947 over the Sicahen glacier. Thousands of soldiers from both countries are deployed in the treacherous region to prevent incursions from both sides.

Soldiers are deployed at altitudes of up to 22,000 ft (6,700 m) and the combined strength of the military personnel from India and Pakistan are believed to be in the range of 10,000 to 20,000.

The Siachen glacier experiences an average winter snowfall of 35 feet and the temperature plunges as low as minus fifty degrees, sometimes even to minus 70 degrees.

More soldiers succumb to death due to harsh weather than combat in the avalanche-prone area.