It’s been a horrendous week locally for the Spanish Ministry of Defence. First, on Monday morning, the tragic death of Commander Francisco Marín Núñez, a former member of the Patrulla Aguila, the Eagle Patrol Acrobatic Display team based at the Air Academy in San Javier, as he attempted to pull out of a loop-the-loop manoeuvre and then, on the following day, the grounding and subsequent holing of the Minesweeper Turia, as it joined in the search effort for the missing plane, the vessel running aground in the shallow water of the Mediterranean, close to La Manga strip.
As some witnesses reported a strong smell of fuel, the crew was rapidly evacuated from the minesweeper with the help of the numerous smaller craft that were also involved in the salvage operation for the jet trainer.
Initial reports that the 40 year old aircraft was obsolete and should have been scrapped were ruled out by the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, who said that everyone should wait until the end of the investigation to draw conclusions from what had happened. For the time being it simply looked like an accident.
The pilot’s senior officer, and deputy director of the AGA said “We still don’t know if it was a material or human error.”
Despite problems with both the weather and the grounding of the minesweeper ‘Turia’ over 75% of the aircraft wreckage had been recovered by yesterday, Sunday, including the canopy and much of the fuselage, although the one key element, the pilot’s cockpit, is still to be located.
Meanwhile work continues on the recovery operation of the Turia with the Ministry of Defence enlisting the help of a civilian company that specialises in buoyancy and refloating work.
The arrival of a barge on Friday saw the removal of 30 tons of fuel from the ship. That was completed late on Saturday with the purpose of both avoiding possible leaks and lightening the weight of the ship, to enable its rescue.
With several flooded compartments, as a result of a ten metre gash, caused during the collision with the rocks, the split to the hull is said to have been “increasing” with the passing of the hours. However, following the stabilisation carried out by the Mastelero Maritime Rescue ship, teams of divers and personnel from the Neptune Navy rescue ship have been placing outer belts that will provide the ship with additional buoyancy.
That exercise is expected to be completed on Monday after which, once the final assessment has been carried out, the hull stabilised and all water pumped out, the ship will be towed to the port of Cartagena for repair.
Meanwhile the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, will visit the site on Monday.
The deputy director of the AGA has confirmed that Commander Marín was planning his training flights in preparation for the academic year of the AGA, which begins in two weeks’ time. His body is understood to be in Cartagena where it is still being examined. On its release by the coroner the AGA have said that he will receive a state funeral in the Academy grounds.
The “CASA C-101 aircraft” is the aircraft used by students for their basic training and is also used by the “Eagle Patrol” for their exhibitions. It is an aircraft that is at the end of its life (2021) after almost 40 years of service.
However the Ministry of Defence has launched the “Airplane Trainer” Program , with the aim of acquiring 24 new turboprop aircraft that will be part of an Integrated Teaching System (ITS) that also includes simulators. The first six units were to be ready in March 2020, but have been delayed until the end of the year.