On 16 Feb 18, the ‘Siachen Pioneers’ based at Air Force Station Leh were tasked to undertake a challenging casualty evacuation of three months pregnant, 35 year old, Stanzin Laton, suffering from dysphagia from a remote village known as Kurgiak located in an inaccessible valley short of Shinkun La pass beyond Padam. It was already 1400h in the afternoon and the weather was overcast with all passes covered. Within a very short period of time, the crew assessed the weather, discussed the contingencies and planned the route with maximum fuel to avoid requirement of refuelling.
The formation got airborne within 30 minutes, with Wing Commander SI Khan and Flight lieutenant Pravin in the lead aircraft and Wing Commander SK Pradhan and Squadron Leader A Bedekar as No 2. The weather enroute was marginal and the narrow and turbulent valley, devoid of any force landing fields made the task even more challenging. However, the crew successfully negotiated the valley and reached Padam. And after a quick turnaround servicing the formation got airborne again for Kurgiak which was another 50kms ahead of Padam.
The weather inside the Kurgiak valley was deteriorating with cloud base lowering further. The terrain was completely snow-bound and the fading light due to clouds increased the chances of disorientation. However, the crew located the village successfully. Since, the terrain was snow bound and no clear field was available, the crew chose a site close to the village which was sloping but manageable, and picked up the casualty. Due to high altitude, lack of oxygen coupled with extremely low temperatures, the lady was having difficulty in breathing.
The flight back was even more challenging with the aircraft buffeting in turbulent winds and light fading further. The crew brought all their professionalism to the forefront to successfully negotiate the adverse weather and recovered back at Leh in time, to save the life of the lady and the child in her womb.