NEW DELHI – Lance Naik Hanumanthappa Koppad died here Feb. 11, three days after he was found miraculously alive under 35 feet of ice for six long days in the treacherous Siachen glacier.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condoled his death as Koppad’s body was flown to Hubbali in Karnataka in an IAF An-32 plane, accompanied by his grieving family. From there, the body will be taken to his village Betadur in Dharwad for the last rites Feb. 12.
Mukherjee called the 33-year-old a “hero who demonstrated exemplary will power and courage in the face of adversity.”
Koppad died at 11.45 a.m. at Delhi’s Army Hospital Research and Referral, where he was admitted Feb. 9, following multi-organ failure, disappointing millions in the country who had prayed for his recovery.
Koppad was found from under 35 feet of hardened ice at an avalanche-hit army post in the Siachen glacier in Jammu and Kashmir, six days after an enormous snow wall came crashing down with a massive roar on the post he and nine other soldiers were occupying.
The bodies of the other nine have been found. Siachen, in Jammu and Kashmir, is the world’s highest battlefield where more Indian and Pakistan soldiers succumb to the extreme climate rather than fighting. An India-Pakistan truce has been in place on the glacier since 2003.
Mukherjee added: “The nation shall always remember Hanumanthappa for his bravery and indomitable spirit.”
Modi tweeted: “He leaves us sad and devastated. RIP Lance Naik Hanumanthappa. The soldier in you remains immortal. Proud that martyrs like you served India.”
Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar added: “The nation salutes him.”
Indian Army chief General Dalbir Singh said: “The soldier in him will continue to inspire generations.”
Besides the Army Chief and Parrikar, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal laid wreaths on the body at Delhi Cantonment. Koppad’s wife Mahadevi and two-year-old daughter Netra were present.
When Koppad was found alive late on Feb. 8 in Siachen, he was conscious but disoriented. The next morning, he was flown to Delhi where his health took a turn for the worse Feb. 10.
On Feb. 11, doctors said in the morning that he was “extremely critical,” with worsening multi-organ dysfunction.
He had suffered from pneumonia and multi-organ dysfunction, and the blood clotting disorder showed no sign of reversal.
The soldier was serving in the high altitude Siachen glacier from August 2015 and was chosen for deployment on one of the highest posts, where temperatures fall below minus 40 degrees Celsius with wind speeds of 100 km per hour.
Koppad has earlier served in difficult and challenging areas for 10 of the 13 years of his military service, the army said.
His postings had earlier taken him to Jammu and Kashmir (2003-06 and 2008-10) and the northeast.
Siachen glacier is one of the five largest glaciers in the Karakoram range, situated at an average altitude of 17,700 feet above sea level and is contested by India and Pakistan.