Itsas Erreskate Basea
Base de Salvamento Marítimo de Arriluze
Sea Rescue Station of Arriluze
CAR IN PORTUGALETE - 15 January 1999
The car went into the waters of river Nerbion, on the town of Portugalete, just at 50 meters from where the one who writes this had passed by just one hour ago.
I had just managed to get asleep for some minutes when I got the shock from the buzzing pager, so I took the car and I scrambled to the Sea Rescue Station in Arriluze.
I arrived the station after forcing the transporter bridge to move to the other side as soon as I entered the gondola with my car, and I join the other first arriving volunteers preparing all the equipment to go for a night dive with a most likely visibility of 10 cm. in the best case.
Appart from Koldo Larrazabal, the skipper of the Arriluze II lifeboat (a 7.8 m. Duharry Cormoran with two 115 CV outboard engines), two Rescue Divers came onboard: Victor Gonzalez and Borja Basagoiti (myself).
The tragedy was in mind of everyone. A car sinking into the river with people inside and nobody coming out from it means drowning for nearly sure. The complete darkness, the overturned car and the nervousness of the people inside of the vehicle left no doubt.
Aware of how hard this kind of jobs use to be, Victor and me discussed the strategy to follow while we loaded the equipment, which is always prepared for this situations, and as we approached the site of the accident (at less than 10 minutes navigation time).
Local police and firemen were already cordoning the area off and we proceeded to locate the car on the previously mentioned visibility conditions.
With a marking line tied to the lifeboat and the car we defined the operation area.
we went around the car, overturned and with its front part buried into
the mood, and counted the number of victimes by looking through the rear
window, always keeping a special care on not moving our fins to avoid touching
the bottom. The main problem here was the mood, a kind of dust which would
have turned our 10 cm. of visibility into 0 with the first disturbance
it encountered. Very carefully we clearly saw two men inside, as well as
another person whose face was covered by her long hair (we thought it was
most likely a woman).
After geting a crowbar we broke the rear window of the Ford Fiesta and proceeded to recover the three dead bodies. One by one, we put them in a nest-stretcher we had brought on the lifeboat. While the stretcher was being raised and the victim recovered in land, we dived again to start pulling the rest of the group of youngsters out from the car.
At a certain point during our intervention, the Basque Police (Ertzaina) apeared with other two divers who very kindly offered us their help. The difficulty of the manouvres and the reduced space in which we were forced to move persuaded us to refuse their help until everybody was taken out from the car. Once the last body was taken out, one of the two police divers entered the car to recover some belongings left in the car.
After geting to land, we described the conditions of the car and its occupants to the Local Police and we were required to the police station in order to give more details. We came back to our base in order to get changed and we drived to the police station.
The owner of the car was also there. He was chatting with a friend whiles his three colleagues entered the car and, according to the latest news I got, they started the car in order to switch on the heater due to the cold weather of the moment. On this moment the car, which had the first gear engaged, leaped forward into the water.
While the poor guy was accompanied by a friend in a nearby room completely wet and covered with a blanket, Alberto, an experienced Local Policeman and diver well known by the people from our Rescue Station directed our declaration and the investigation in order to avoid us to attend the trial that would be cellebrated in a future. I never been directly contacted about that tragedy again, with the exception of a phonecall I received some days later in order to concrete a couple of detailes.
new went all around Spain, in all TV channels and the rest of the mass
media, and there was an investigation on it. Even if there was a disk forbiding
the parking in that place there was no physical barrier together with it.
Nobody complained about a car parked in that place. Furthermore, everybody
knew that each weekend vehicles parked in that spot.
It was a hardly forgetable experience, which leaves its mark on volunteers, like us, willing to help with all their knowledge and willpower, and praying to see these kind of moments ending with a smile for both rescuers and rescued ones.