In an extraordinary display of courage and camaraderie, the mountaineers of the High-Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) have embarked on a daring mission to recover the remains of their fallen comrades. This heroic operation, aimed at recovering the bodies of three Havildar instructors who were killed in an avalanche, is a testament to the indomitable spirit and unwavering dedication of the Indian Army’s elite training institution. The mission not only honours the memory of the brave soldiers but also underscores the relentless commitment of HAWS to the principle of leaving no one behind.

HAWS refused to leave their brethren behind and launched a carefully planned rescue mission, codenamed “Operation RTG,” on June 18, 2024.

A fateful expedition

In July 2023, a HAWS mountaineering expedition of 38 members set out to climb Mount Kun in the Union Territory of Ladakh. The expedition set out on 1 October 2023, with the hope of summiting Mount Kun on 13 October 2023. The treacherous terrain and unpredictable weather in this glacial region posed enormous challenges. While tying ropes to a snow wall, the team was hit by a sudden avalanche on 8 October 2023, at an altitude of over 18,300 feet, between Camp 2 and Camp 3 on the Fariabad Glacier. Four members were caught in the deadly slide. Despite valiant efforts to rescue their comrades, the team was only able to recover the body of Lance Naik Stanzin Targais. The remains of Havildar Rohit, Havildar Thakur Bahadur Ale and Naik Gautam Rajbanshi were trapped deep in a crevice, buried under layers of snow and ice.

short article insert Operation RTG: The Mission to Bring Them Home

Refusing to leave their brothers behind, HAWS launched a carefully planned rescue mission codenamed “Operation RTG” on June 18, 2024. The rescue expedition, named after the missing soldiers – Rohit, Thakur and Gautam – consisted of 88 experienced mountaineers determined to recover the remains of their fallen comrades.

About 40 kilometres from Khumbathang a road head camp was set up, equipped with specialised mountaineering and rescue equipment, special clothing, survival kits, tents, meals and other supplies. Two helicopters were on standby to transport the remains of the brave and to evacuate the rescue team if necessary.

A base camp was set up about eight miles from the head of the road at an altitude of about 14,790 feet. Major General Bruce Fernandez, HAWS Commandant, stationed himself at the base camp to oversee the rescue efforts. Brigadier SS Shekhawat, HAWS Deputy Commandant, personally led the search, emphasizing its significance.

The incident site was about three kilometers from the base camp. The rescue team faced enormous challenges at an altitude of 18,300 feet. On June 25, 2024, they established a forward base camp, with two intermediate camps for acclimatization. Equipped with satellite phones, special tents, advanced tools and supported by special helicopters stationed 20 kilometers away, all precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the search team.

A glimmer of hope

The first major breakthrough came on July 4, 2024, when the remains of Havildar Rohit Kumar (Dogra Scouts) were found about 30 feet deep in the snow and ice of the gorge. The remains were airlifted to Kumbathang. With renewed determination, the team braved the harsh conditions and went 10 feet deeper into the gorge, where they retrieved the remains of Havildar Thakur Bahadur Ale (Gorkha Rifles) on July 7, 2024. The search for the remains of Naik Gautam Rajbanshi (Assam Regiment) continued as the team remained determined to bring their comrades home. The mission was finally completed on July 8, 2024, when the remains of all three trapped soldiers were recovered, leaving no team member behind.

HAWS refused to leave their brethren behind and launched a carefully planned rescue mission, codenamed “Operation RTG,” on June 18, 2024.

The remains were returned to their families with full military honors. This was a kind of closure for their loved ones who had patiently waited for a final farewell to these brave souls.

The Spirit of HAWS

The operation exemplifies the core values ​​of HAWS and the Indian Army: the tireless pursuit of excellence, the unwavering commitment to comrades and the ethos to leave no one behind. With the completion of Operation RTG, the nation stands in solidarity with the brave soldiers of HAWS, honoring their courage and dedication.

Brig SS Shekhawat’s Reflections on Operation RTG

As Deputy Commandant of HAWS, he is no stranger to formidable challenges, having scaled Mount Everest three times and been awarded the Kirti Chakra for one of the toughest operations the Indian Army has ever undertaken. However, he describes Operation RTG as the most demanding mission of his life..

“Nine days of digging, 10-12 hours a day at 18,700 feet,” he said. “Removing tons of snow and ice.” The grueling effort, both physically and mentally, tested the resilience of the entire team.

Despite the immense hardships, Brigadier Shekhawat expressed a deep sense of accomplishment. “It was the toughest mission of my life, physically, mentally and emotionally,” he said. “But I am happy that we have found them. Rohit has been cremated with full military honours. Thakur and Gautam will be sent to their relatives, where they will receive the befitting last rites.the soldiers deserve.”