THE High Court of Catalonia has ordered that two Guardia Civil frogmen who risked their lives to save a sea cave diver and recover another’s body be given medals.
It heard that despite the fact they had taken a full part in the mission they were not decorated while two companions were, despite all being recommended for medals. The court, after hearing an account of the highly dangerous rescue, decided this was discriminatory, and has told the Ministry of the Interior to award the men medals.
Antonio Suarez-Valdes, the men’s lawyer welcomed the ruling. He added: “It is very sad that agents of the Guardia Civil who have risked losing their lives to save the life of another citizen have to go to court to have their right to be decorated recognised.”
He added: “Every year the Ministry of Interior discretionally distributes decorations of this type to staff who were comfortably seated in an office, without the slightest risk to their lives.”
The men’s feat took place five years ago on July 20, 2014, in the Arquets cave in Girona. Of three divers who entered this almost unexplored cave the day before, two were trapped. The third was able to get out and summon help.
Divers of the Specialist Group of Subaquatic Activities of the Guardia Civil (GEAS) were confronted with a cave filled with water and a narrow crack at the end. Silt made visibility just 20 centimetres.
Two divers – who were later awarded medals – managed to get through the narrow crack with the utmost difficulty. They found the missing men. One, a 63-year-old had died. His 53-year-old companion was alive but barely breathing as his oxygen was running out.
He had managed to survive 24 hours after finding an air pocket in the submerged cave.
The two divers claiming medals were then sent in with oxygen and isotonic drinks. They had to negotiate a 55-metre-long underwater gallery that was so narrow one of them had to remove his oxygen tank after he got hooked up on projecting rocks.
They reached the survivor and with the aid of oxygen managed to revive him after about 45 minutes.
A relief crew of divers were too big to make it through, so they had to wait for the first pair of divers to return.
The former then cleared a bigger passage through the gallery in extreme conditions of near zero visibility before the latter brought the survivor out.
But their task was not over. The same four divers had to return the following day to recover the body as they now knew the cave and it was known others couldn’t fit through.
This was once again an extremely dangerous task, with the GEAS units having to break safety protocols including the amount of oxygen they had in reserve.