Born on 1 June 1983 in Betadur of Dharwad district in Karnataka, Lance Naik Hanumanthappa belonged to a farmers’ family. Youngest in the family, he always wanted to join the Army. He came up the hard way, attending high school, walking 6 kms every day. Despite being rejected thrice in the Army recruitment rallies at Belagavi, Dharwad, and Gadag, he kept on trying and finally managed to get into the Army in the year 2002.
The daily walk to the school toughened him as an infantry soldier. A year later, he spent three years on counter-terror duties in Kashmir. In 2010, he was sent to the North-East for counter-insurgency operations. He was selected in 2015 as member of the ten-man team to guard the 20,500 feet high Sonam post. At the top of Saltro Ridge, Sonam is among the highest permanently manned posts in the world. It overlooks the Siachen glacier to the east and to the Pakistan-occupied territory in the west. It has been named after Havaldar Sonam, who faced extreme weather and Pakistani fire to secure the post in 1984.
The post provides magnificent view but is also exposed to the most inclement weather in the world. Due to extreme cold and rough climate Siachen is called ‘frozen hell’. A soldier has to be physically tough, highly skilled in survival and psychologically conditioned so that he does not run the risk of losing his mind at that altitude.The ten men manning the post were handpicked by the commanding officer of 19 Madras. They arrived in the Siachen area in October 2015 to receive training tailored for serving in high altitude.
No one saw when on 3 February 2016, a huge block of 800 x1000 metres of snow broke away from the mountain and bury the ten soldiers under 25 feet of snow at an altitude of 19600 feet. Major Vipin Kumar company commander who would receive a daily report on radio, heard nothing that morning. At 0515, a feeble voice came on the radio “Saab hum dab gaye hain.”(Sir, we have got buried).
A massive rescue operation was launched by afternoon with fifty personnel. It was hell under those conditions. The night brought more ice and wind of unspeakable ferocity. After six days of digging, they saw the first body. It was cold stiff and unmoving. After three hours, they saw the next body and were surprised to note that the soldier was breathing. It was Lance Naik Hanumanathappa. He was critical and rushed to a make-shift medical tent. His survival made news on social media. The nation hailed him as a great hero. His family learnt about his survival from the TV news. Initially no one believed but later there was celebration outside their house.
Hanumanthappa was taken to the Army Hospital in Delhi by helicopter and plane. Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Army Chief General Dalbir Singh visited the hospital and enquired about his condition. Doctors wondered how he could survive in those conditions. His family visited a temple on 9th February and prayed late into night. They knew his condition was critical. A panel of medical experts from All India Institute of Medical Sciences had arrived to inspect the soldier’s condition. His wife visited the hospital in the forenoon.
Hanumanthappa breathed his last at 11.45 hours on 11 February 2016. He is survived by his wife Mahadevi and daughter Netra. His mortal remains were taken to Brar Square. The Prime Minister, government and state leaders paid respects to him. The message from the Prime Minister said ‘Proud that martyrs like you served India.” The soldier’s body was flown to his home. A samadhi was constructed protected by fence. Lance Naik Hanumanthappa was given the gallantry award, ‘Sena Medal’ for his bravery, commitment, devotion to duty and supreme sacrifice. The medal was received by his wife, Mahadevi in January 2017.