A massive avalanche hit the upper reaches of Jammu and Kashmir's ski resort Gulmarg on Wednesday, killing two Polish tourists and trapping 21 skiers who were rescued from the slopes that had been declared a "no go zone", the police said.
The Hapatkhud Kangdori area where the accident took place had been declared off limits due the possibility of an avalanche following heavy snowfall two days ago, the sources said.
At 12.30 pm, those fears came true when the gigantic wall of snow rolled down, trapping the group of mostly Polish and Russian tourists and two local guides.
"Three teams of 21 foreign nationals and two local guides went to Affarwat for skiing this morning. A snow avalanche struck Hapatkhud Kangdori around 12.30 pm," Baramulla senior superintendent of police Amod Nagpure told PTI.
Asked if there was an avalanche warning for the area where the accident took place, Nagpure said an investigation has been ordered.
Two skiers died while the other 21 who were on the slopes when the avalanche struck were rescued, he said.
Those who died were identified as Krzysltof (43) and Adam Grzech (45).
Their bodies have been recovered and moved to hospital for medico-legal procedures while the rescued tourists and locals are being given medical attention, he said.
Several people saw the tragedy unfold.
"We saw the dance of death before our eyes. A 20 ft wall of ice fell on the skiers and they got buried under it. It's all about nature's fury," All India Congress Committee member Deepak Chinchore from Karnataka who happened to be at the spot told PTI.
Officials said the cable car which ferries tourists up the 14,000 ft Afarwat mountain was used for the rescue operations.
"Avalanche hit the Afarwat peak #HapathKhud at famous ski resort in #Gulmarg. #Rescue operation has been launched by #Baramulla Police alongwith other agencies. Reports of some skiers being trapped are being corroborated. More details shall follow," a spokesperson of the Baramulla district police said on Twitter soon after the incident.
Videos of the avalanche, showing people running for their lives, circulated widely on social media.
The Russians rescued today were identified as Ekaterina, Maxim, Vladimir, Vasiliy, Engine, Leo, Nikita Mastryukov and Anna Chornyak, the police said.
The Polish nationals were Rafat Kaqmaren, Narcin Wieklux, Eukasz Potaczewck, Tukasz Pasek, Katarzyna Filip, Marcin Raczyk, Barteomie Szkop, Bartosz Domagata, Adrian Anirowsu and Macie Kowalczyk.
Besides, three guides, Bartos from Poland and two locals, Fayaz Ahmad Sheikh and Mushtaq Ahmad Mir, were also rescued.
Snow avalanches are frequent in higher reaches of Kashmir during January and February, especially after fresh snowfall.
Kashmir witnessed heavy snowfall on January 29 and 30.
The last big avalanche in Gulmarg was on February 8, 2010 when 17 soldiers in an army camp were killed.