‘A diver’s worst nightmare’: Spanish man trapped in underwater cave survived 60 hours in air pocket
|National Post 21 Apr 2017 at 00:17|
Trapped in the lonely darkness of an underwater cave, Xisco Gracia was clinging to life but could only think about how he sent his friend to a sure death.
Time was running out for Gracia. Stranded, and with his oxygen supply depleted, the only reason he was still alive 40 metres underground was because he miraculously found an air pocket within its confines. But the air that Gracia, 55, breathed in was heavy with carbon dioxide and the experienced speleologist and university professor began to hallucinate.
He lost track of how long hed been there. It mustve been at least five days, he thought. The glowing bubbles of light in the distance surely meant that rescue was near until he realized they were only desolating mirages. Losing hope, Gracia thought that Guillem Mascaro, his diving partner and one chance for rescue wasnt able to make it back to the surface.
In the end, I thought they wouldnt find me because Guillem couldnt get out Gracia told Diario de Mallorca in Spanish. He didnt know the caves well and I was scared he would end up without air.
Gracia and Mascaro were deep underwater, researching the topography of the Cova de sa Piqueta in Manacor, Spain, when their guide wire snapped on the edge of a jagged rock. Gracia scrambled to find the other end of the guide wire so that he could perform an emergency procedure to fix it. By the time Gracia was able to connect the two ends, there was not enough oxygen left to bring both he and Mascaro make the return trip.
Running out of time and oxygen, the two turned back and found a cavity in the cave that was 100 metres long and 40 metres wide. After he gave his remaining oxygen to Mascaro and sent him to the surface, Gracia would stay in this pocket for 60 hours, surviving only by drinking from a thin puddle of murky water before a daring rescue on Monday.
We are used to being alone but to stay in a pocket without being to leave and nobody finding you is a divers worst nightmare, Gracia said.
Starved and breathing in an unhealthy amount of carbon dioxide, Gracia had reason to be frightened.
The speleologist couldnt sleep inside the cave because of the poor air quality and extreme humidity. Exerting himself would only force him to breathe more of it in. But the area in the pocket that Mascaro had left him in was uncomfortable and wet. To avoid hypothermia, Gracia decided that he had no choice but risk climbing the jagged rocks nearby until he found a flat site near a thin pool of water.
There, it was always dark. Gracia insisted on only using the battery from his dying flashlights to urinate or follow a path of markers he laid down to his water source.
The water was brackish, but quite sweet, he said. This water may have been keeping him alive, but it also what kept him languishing underground.
While Gracia struggled to cope with his new surroundings, Mascaro had made it to the surface and a rescue operation lead by the civil police was underway.
They could have tried to stretch out the remaining oxygen, but surely that wouldve been suicide and they would have both died
Gracia wasnt exactly lost, according to Mascaro. He knew where his friend was, but rescue divers could not get to him on Sunday because of the opaque water. The emergency divers could not see where they were swimming in the thick water and were only able to travel 100 metres before they feared getting lost within an underground labyrinth of tunnels.
Still, they thought they had found Gracia on Sunday and drilled a hole into the cave wall so that they could hand him oxygen and food but failed to reach him. From the cavity, Gracia thought he could hear what sounded like generator. When its sounds stopped echoing in the cave walls, he thought the search had been abandoned for good.
Primeras imagenes de Xisco.Grcia saliendo de Cova de Sa Piqueta #Manacor pic.twitter.com/4rBjSyW06i
Putting off the search because of the lack of visibility, the rescue team which consisted of more than 60 people, waited 15 hours before trying again. With a clear path, two divers were finally able to find Gracia 900 metres from the caves entrance.
When they came face-to-face, Gracia hugged and kissed Bernat Clamor, one of the divers that found him. To get back to the surface, an exhausted Gracia had to swim for an hour and half. Breathing in oxygen from the canisters Clamor brought along was like charging the batteries, he said.
Enrique Ballesteros, a member of the civil polices underwater taskforce, told El Mundo that the decision to send Mascaro alone to the surface saved Gracias life.
Dr. Xisco Grcia, underwater archaeologist, was found alive today after 2 days in an underwater cave in Spain https://t.co/9t1T0Wr9Ex
I think they made the right decisions and thats why (Gracia) is still with us, Ballesteros said. They could have tried to stretch out the remaining oxygen, but surely that wouldve been suicide and they would have both died.
Video taken by the civil police shows the rescue team pulling him back to the surface from the caves depths. With the help of two crew members, Gracia was able to walk back to the surface on his two feet on Monday around midnight. After a short stay in the hospital, Gracia is ready for another dive.