Wednesday, August 6, 2003, Chandigarh, India





National Capital Region--Delhi

THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
M A I N   N E W S

A wish realised after 35 years
S.P. Sharma
Tribune News Service

Trekkers of the Manali-based Mountaineering Institute sit beside the body of Sepoy Beli Ram on the South Dakka glacier (16000 ft) in Himachal Pradesh
Trekkers of the Manali-based Mountaineering Institute sit beside the body of Sepoy Beli Ram on the South Dakka glacier (16000 ft) in Himachal Pradesh where he had died along with 101 soldiers 35 years ago in a crash; and (inset) 82-year-old Tando Devi with a picture of her son, Beli Ram. Photos Sarabjeet Singh and Mountaineering Institute.

Akhnoor, August 5
It is a miracle for the 82-year-old Tando Devi as some trekkers have spotted the mutilated body of her son, Sepoy Beli Ram, who had died in an air crash 35 years ago on the south Dakka Glacier (16,000 ft) in Lahaul-Spiti.

Tando Devi and Giano Devi (55), widow of Sepoy Beli Ram, are sobbing in a migrant camp at Devipur, near here, ever since they were informed about the recovery of the body of the soldier who had gone missing on February 7, 1968. The aged mother said she had never thought that she would be able to see her son alive or dead. And at last her wish to see at least her sons body has been realised.

The jawan was among the 102 soldiers, including six crew members of AN-12, who died when the aircraft on its way to Leh from Chandigarh crashed. The Army and the Air Force abandoned the search for the missing soldiers six months later.

The jawan had married Giano Devi just two years before the crash when she was just 20-year-old. After receiving the news of the recovery of the body, many friends of the jawan have started enquiring about the arrival of the body here.

Tando Devi and Giano Devi recalled that they were informed in 1968 that the jawan was among those missing after the crash. A few days later another soldier came to their house and informed them that he had been declared dead. Thereafter, the family married Giano Devi with the younger brother of Beli Ram.

Tando Devi said, according to the rituals, they performed his last rites by cremating his image made of silver. However, the family was anxiously waiting for his remains which they plan to cremate with their traditional style.

Giano Devi along with Chattu Ram, a friend of Beli Ram, yesterday met the Brigade Commander here seeking early recovery of the body.

When contacted at Manali on the telephone by this correspondent, Col H.S. Chauhan, Director of the mountaineering institute, said it might take a couple of days to retrieve the body. The body was identified from the service book which was found in the pocket of the coat which the jawan was wearing at the time of the crash.

He said some trekkers, who were on the way to scale the Chandra Bhaga-13 peak, spotted the body and some pieces of wreckage of the aircraft. Though the body had partially been reduced to a skeleton because of frost, the upper jaw, fingers and some hair were visible. Some badges of the Garhwal Rifles, Signals, Ordinance and RVC were scattered there.

Col Chauhan said the Army and the Air Force authorities were in touch with him and some men of the mountaineering institute might accompany them for the search of other bodies.

Mr Subhashish Panda, Deputy Commissioner, Lahaul-Spiti, said he was in contact with the Army authorities for retrieving the body.
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Air Force to retrieve plane wreckage
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 5
The Air Force will launch an operation to retrieve the wreckage of the An-12 transport aircraft which crashed in Himachal Pradesh about 35 years ago while on a sortie to Leh.

We will retrieve the wreckage and the bodies of soldiers, said Sqdn Ldr Mahesh Upasani, the IAFs official spokesman in Delhi. The operation will be carried out in collaboration with the Himalayan Mountaineering and Allied Sports Institute.

The aircraft, commanded by Flt-Lt H.K. Singh, was on a routine sortie to Leh for ferrying troops and supplies when it crashed. A service book and a letter found from the Army uniform and overcoat draped on the body identified the deceased as Beli Ram. He was with the Armys Pioneer regiment.

The aircraft belonged to the IAFs No.25 Squadron here, which is tasked with maintaining the Army forward positions in Jammu and Kashmir. The squadron operated Soviet-built An-12 aircraft since the 1960s, which were finally phased out in 1993. It now operates An-32 medium transporters and IL-76 strategic freighters.

The IAF spokesman said they had received some information. The local air force authorities said apart from media reports, they had no information on the episode. An Army Headquarters spokesperson at Delhi said though complete details were not available yet, the Army would try to retrieve the wreckage and the bodies of its men.
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