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Last Updated: Thursday, 7 August, 2003, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
India searches for lost aircraft
The Indian Air Force has begun a search operation for the remains of an aircraft that went missing in the Himalayas nearly 35 years ago.
Indian soldiers patrol near the border with Pakistan
India and Pakistan are still at odds over Kashmir

The search follows the recent discovery of a soldier's body at the base of a Himalayan glacier in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.

The soldier, Beli Ram, was part of a contingent being flown to Indian-administered Kashmir, when the aircraft disappeared.

The aircraft lost radio contact with the ground and was believed to have crashed in the snow-bound mountains.

However, all attempts to locate the wreckage proved futile and had to be abandoned after several months of intensive aerial searches.

Mountain discovery

But last week, members of a mountaineering expedition found a part of the Russian-built Antonov-12 transporter's wreckage and the remains of one of its passengers.

The remains lay partially exposed at the base of the 16,000 feet high Dhakka Glacier, located between the settlement of Battal and the Rohtang Pass, which links the state of Himachal Pradesh with Indian administered Kashmir.

Reduced to a virtual skeleton but with his clothing intact, documents in the dead man's pockets identified him as Beli Ram, a soldier of the Pioneer Regiment.
Himalayas near Kashmir
The aircraft was on its way to Indian administered Kashmir

It took the Indian defence establishment some time before they grasped the significance of the chance find and mounted a proper search and recovery operation.

On Thursday, two Indian Air Force helicopters started search operations to locate the remains of ill-fated aircraft.

Officials at the Indian Air Force Headquarters at Delhi told the BBC that the reconnaissance mission would shortly be followed by a search on the ground.

They said the search expedition would include air force and army personnel along with mountaineering and glacier experts.

Long wait ends

Meanwhile, in a temporary refugee camp near the city of Jammu Indian-administered Kashmir, Beli Ram's widow, Gyano Devi, and his mother, Dhanno Devi, have been told about the discovery of the missing soldier's body.

For years they had lived in the hope that Beli Ram had somehow survived the air crash and would one day return home.

But now they are waiting for the authorities to bring back his body so they can finally complete his last rites.

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