The Siachen Pioneers undertook an evacuation of a three-month-old pregnant woman, suffering from eyesight loss and dysphagia (blockage of throat causing inability to swallow), from a remote village called Kurgiak located in a valley of Shinkun La pass beyond Padam in Ladakh on Friday. The weather in the Kurgiak Valley was deteriorating with the cloud base lowering further. The terrain was completely snow-bound and the fading light due to the clouds increased the chances of disorientation.
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 the requirement of refuelling.
The formation got airborne within 30 minutes, with Wing Commander S.I. Khan and Flight Lieutenant Pravin in the lead aircraft, along with Wing Commander S.K. Pradhan and Squadron Leader A. Bedekar as No 2. The weather en route 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. After a quick turnaround, servicing the formation got airborne again for Kurgiak which was another 50 km ahead of Padam.
Since the terrain was snowbound and no clear field was available, the crew chose a site close to the village, which was sloping but manageable. The crew located the village successfully and picked up the pregnant woman. Due to the high altitude and a lack of oxygen, coupled with extremely low temperatures, the woman 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 pregnant woman.