SRINAGAR, India – A massive avalanche plowed into an Indian army training center at a ski resort town in Indian-controlled Kashmir on Monday, killing 17 soldiers and critically injuring 17 others.
The avalanche slammed into the army's High Altitude Warfare School at about 11 a.m. and swept away the soldiers during a training session, said army spokesman Col. Vineet Sood. It was the worst avalanche in the area in many years, he said.
Seventeen bodies were found and 53 troops were rescued about six hours after the speeding mass of snow and ice struck the center high on a Himalayan slope, senior police officer Qayoom Manhas told The Associated Press.
Manhas said of those rescued, 17 needed emergency medical care.
About 70 troops were taking a skiing test when the avalanche came crashing down, he said.
Rescue efforts involving army, police and civilian officials were "very timely, swift and coordinated," Manhas said.
The accident occurred near Gulmarg, a ski resort about 30 miles northwest of Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, said Sood.
About 400 people, including 30 civilian workers, were at the training center, but the avalanche hit only one portion of the facility.
Incessant snow and rain complicated rescue operations.
G.M. Dar, a tourist official in the area, told the AP about 400 tourists skiing in Gulmarg were safe.
Frequent rain and heavy snowfall often trigger avalanches and landslides in Kashmir, blocking roads and cutting off tourist resorts like Gulmarg. Gulmarg is also close to the Line of Control, a highly militarized cease-fire line dividing the Himalayan region of Kashmir between India and Pakistan.
The claim over Kashmir has caused two wars between the archrivals since they became independent from Britain in 1947. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers are posted along either side of the Line of Control.
Last year in April, an avalanche hit an Indian army post in a separate region close to the de-facto border with Pakistan, killing seven soldiers and injuring at least eight others.