IT is not often that a civilian is awarded one of the Guardia Civil’s most prestigious heroism medals – but that is what a court has just ordered.
Hilari Moreno, a 45-year-old electrician from Barcelona should be awarded the force’s Red Cross for his bravery in helping rescue a caver trapped in a sea cave in Mallorca, the High Court has decided. This is awarded to people who have taken part in an action at the risk of their own life.
Although a civilian, Moreno has been cave diving since 2000 and as well as running a shop selling underwater equipment works as a civilian instructor with the Catalan Mossos d’Esquadra diving unit. He is also part of the volunteer rescue team of the Catalan Federation of Speleology.
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On April 16, 2017, a colleague from Mallorca warned him that an acquaintance of his had been trapped in the Pirate-Pont-Piqueta cave, a labyrinthine and partially flooded cave system in the municipality of Manacor. The trapped man had taken refuge in an air bubble inside the cavern after a rope that served as a guideline broke and he did not have enough oxygen to get out.
Moreno spoke to a member of the Guardia Civil’s Special Group on Underwater Activities (GEAS), with whom he had shared numerous dives and the agent asked him to join the operation. He didn’t think twice. That same afternoon he was at Sabadell airport, where a Guardia Civil helicopter picked them both up.
The local Mallorca caving rescue group had already attempted a rescue without success. As the hours passed the oxygen inside the cave was running out. Moreno and the Guardia Civil officer studied the terrain: it was a sinuous, labyrinthine cavern, practically unexplored. They chose the longest route, almost a kilometre long, along which a guideline remained intact.
With the electrician leading they forced themselves along a narrow passage while carrying a double load of oxygen. Eventually after an hour they reached the man, who had been trapped for 60 hours and was exhausted.
After giving the man glucose drinks they made the return journey, this time with the policeman in charge, the rescued man in the middle and Moreno following. The return trip was even more difficult, taking 100 minutes.
The water had become cloudy and visibility was nil. They groped forward, touching each other to confirm no one was left behind. The most dramatic moment came when they went astray. They took the wrong route at one of the junctions and, when they realised it, they had to turn around. “At that moment, you can’t get into an argument with your partner or lose your nerve,” said Moreno. “I’ve done some very complicated explorations, but none like that. Knowing that a life depends on you leads you to risk yours.”
The Ministry of the Interior awarded the Cross of the Order of Merit of the Civil Guard with a red badge to the agent and a white badge to the electrician. To justify this difference, it claimed that the policeman had directed the rescue operation, while Moreno had merely done what he was told.
The High Court disagrees. It recognises that the granting of rewards is a discretionary power of the State, but argues that it cannot be arbitrary and finds no reason why Moreno should be treated worse than the Guardia Civil officer.
So novel is the decision that it is not known what pension he is entitled to because of his Red Cross. The law says that he should get an extra 15 per cent of his salary as a Guardia Civil. But Moreno is of course not a member of the Guardia Civil.