Dangerous Depths: The Tragic Deaths of Cueva Del Agua

Dangerous Depths: The Tragic Deaths of Cueva Del Agua
Incident LocationDiver Full Name
Spain, Cueva Del Agua, La PlannerUnknown French Diver (1990s), Antonio Narinjo Solaire (March 29, 1996), Antonio Sanchez Lopez Guejaro (March 29, 1996), Antonio Pedro Martinez Ardes (2010)

La Planner is a picturesque coastal village located on Spain’s southeastern coast in the stunning region of Murcia. Its idyllic location between the glistening Mediterranean Sea and the majestic Sierra de la Moya mountains creates a captivating backdrop, inviting visitors to immerse themselves in its natural beauty and experience a serene ambiance like no other. While most visitors are drawn to La Planner for its peaceful atmosphere and scenic vistas, a select few seek out this hidden paradise for a unique adventure.

The Allure and Dangers of Cueva Del Agua

To explore the mesmerizing depths of Cueva Del Agua, this allure of the warm waters within the cave also gives rise to its unpredictable and dangerous conditions. Several people have lost their lives in this cave because of its technical nature, due to its geomorphological characteristics, which makes it a challenge for even the most advanced cave diving enthusiasts. In the beginning of the ’90s, two French divers died in this cave, and the causes of the accident are unknown.

Their remains were not found until several years later by other divers passing by. Surprisingly, this incident did not discourage others from attempting to conquer the cave. Its seductive power is such that, according to local residents, every weekend there are excursions of divers who only seek to overcome the challenge of going through its galleries and coming out from them to be able to tell the tale. In subsequent years, two additional disasters unfolded in a similar fashion.

This is the Cueva Del Agua cave disaster of 1996.

Discovering the Hidden Gem

Located along the margins of a regional road and seemingly abandoned, Cueva Del Agua is a hidden gem that demands keen observation to notice its existence. With scarce signage to guide the way, it requires heightened awareness to recognize its hollow black opening. If the traveler were to look into this opening by chance, he would discover a narrow slope that leads to the main entrance of one of the most interesting underwater caves in Spain.

Located in the town of La Planner on the shores of Murcia’s Costa Calida, the Cueva Del Agua began to be explored in the 1970s and currently has 6,956 meters (22,825 feet) of explored route.

The approximate linear length of the cave is about 900 meters (2,953 feet). Its turquoise thermal waters, which remain at a temperature of more than 30 degrees throughout the year, is an attractive natural pool for the locals to bask in. Experts believe that the unexplored section of the cave connects with the mountains surrounding the coastal towns. “Geologically, it makes perfect sense,” says Sergio Paris, one of the pioneers in the exploration of the Cueva Del Agua.

Its entrance is located at the edge of the main road at the height of El Mahon and has two sectors: a short one that continues towards the sea, and another, the most extensive, which goes under the mountain about 1,000 meters (3,281 feet). At the end of this section, and after overcoming a narrow labyrinth of galleries, the spring from which the thermal waters flow was found.

Cueva Del Agua is a huge labyrinth of warm water galleries and chambers known as “Europe Cenote.” The very warm, almost still water has resulted in very silty and muddy sections. In fact, some of the passages were cleared with shovels by the early explorers.

The entrance cavern zone is suitable for novice cave divers, but deeper exploration is serious and requires solid cave diving skills. Thus, this is why this cave is frequently used for advanced cave diver training. The current explorers and divers of the Cueva Del Agua group are trying to explore the cave in depth, following two lines of research.

One is to try to find out more about the hydrothermal origin of the cave and to observe the development of the fractures that connect the aquifer with the cavities. Another line is to investigate why the levels of the aquifers of the coast of the region are dropping.

The Dive of March 29, 1996

On March 29, 1996, a team of Guardia Civil divers set out to coordinate a cave diving course in Cueva Del Agua. The Guardia Civil is the oldest law enforcement agency in Spain and is one of two national police forces. The GEAS is the specialized unit of the Guardia Civil in charge of search and rescue of people, location and recovery of objects in aquatic environments, among other missions.

The team meticulously conducted their equipment checks and reviewed the plan, leaving no room for error. Antonio Narinjo Solaire and Antonio Sanchez Lopez Guejaro were chosen as the first dive pair, with a pair of support divers stationed at the entrance, ready to assist if needed.

The plan for the first dive was very relaxed, as the GEAS divers were testing new equipment and sought to avoid tempting fate. The pair intended to dive one-third of the gas, or the second jump of the Gallery Tuple, about 200 meters (656 feet) from the entrance. Whichever came first was going to be the trigger to return to the surface.

Antonio Narinjo Solaire and Antonio Sanchez Lopez Guejaro began their swim from the entrance. The speed of the dive was very slow-paced, admiring the shapes, feeling the behavior of the new test equipment, and enjoying the relaxation that comes not only from diving in caves but also from diving in thermal water at 28 degrees Celsius.

Wrong Turn and Tragic Consequences

After covering 75 meters (246 feet), the pair reached the Gallery of Distress. This section posed a challenge as they navigated through narrow passages with sediment-laden bottoms, encountering occasional disruptions in the line due to collapses.

After approximately 4 meters (12 feet) of traversing galleries, they entered the expansive and cavernous Gallery of Discord, which offered multiple potential routes, but those were reserved for later exploration.

Within 6 meters (20 feet) more of diving, they found themselves in the Pool Tube, located at 185 meters (607 feet), indicating that they were nearing the end of their intended route. After about 15 more meters (49 feet), the pair reached the second T-junction, catching a glimpse of the initial section of the Viscero Gallery.

However, despite having 20 bars of gas remaining for the return journey and more than two minutes left before the designated return time, they reached the end of the marking line. The conditions allowed for a slight extension of this line, and for a brief moment, their eyes gleamed with excitement and a longing gaze silently contemplating if the other would break the pact and suggest venturing further.

Yet, a profound gaze exchange between them signaled the lowering of their brows, an acceptance of resignation, and the commencement of their return. At a depth of 210 meters (689 feet), the pair decided to turn the dive when a sudden wave of horror washed over their faces. The tranquil blue waters they had initially encountered were now transformed into a murky haze, clouded with silt that had been stirred up from the galleries during their descent.

Even the slightest disturbance caused by the exhaled air bubbles of the divers as they collide with the ceiling of the cavity dislodges fragments of rocks and stones of varying sizes. This, in turn, contributed to the increased turbidity of the water, both above and below the divers, severely hampering their visibility and making it challenging to locate the exit. The diminished visibility added an unsettling element to their underwater experience, heightening the tension and unease in their hearts. They made a wrong turn along the Viscera line.

At this crucial junction, located at 200 meters (656 feet), they turned right here instead of left towards the entrance. It is said that the densilt in the water caused the pair to lose their sense of direction. After swimming in the wrong direction for approximately 10 minutes, the pair unexpectedly arrived at the entrance of a narrow passage that led into the Gallery de la Chera. At this point, the pair must have been struck with the realization that they had committed a critical error.

Drawing upon their knowledge and calculations they understood that they should have been traversing the extensive passage of galleries that would ultimately lead them back to the pool of troops at 185 meters to make the jump back to the Gallery of Discord line. In a truly bewildering turn of events, instead of turning back to rectify their mistake, the pair inexplicably chose to press forward, fueled by the hope of discovering an alternative exit.

This would be the second crucial mistake made by the pair. This decision, which defied logic, was said to be acted upon desperation as their air supply began to dwindle to critical levels.

Desperation and Tragic Consequences

Finally, navigating through the narrow passage, Antonio Naranjo Salia and Antonio Sanchez Lopez Gajaro found themselves at a depth of 250 meters or approximately 820 feet, still with only a few inches of visibility in front of their masks.

Desperately searching for a glimmer of light that might indicate an exit, their hopes were diminished as the cave offered nothing but murky, silted-out water. After persisting in the wrong direction for approximately 15 more minutes, the pair eventually reached the end of the line. No other connections or pathways were present, leaving them with a profound sense of isolation and despair.

With a mere five minutes of air supply remaining, the pair was left with no other choice but to turn back, accepting the harsh reality that no alternative options were available.

They retraced their steps diligently, following the Gallery de Chera line back for a distance of 50 meters or approximately 164 feet. Antonio Naranjo Celia cast a desperate glance backward, only to witness Antonio Sanchez Lopez Gajaro’s flashlight rapidly fading into the murky abyss. Antonio Sanchez Lopez Gajaro had succumbed to the effect of insufficient air, causing him to lose consciousness.

With a heavy heart, Antonio Naranjo Saleha realized it was now only a matter of time before he, too, would face the same fate. In a final act of determination, he managed to swim an additional 10 meters or approximately 33 feet before succumbing to unconsciousness and tragically drowning. After one hour had passed, the support divers from GEAS who had been on standby at the surface received instructions to descend and initiate a search for the missing divers.

Search and Rescue Efforts

Recognizing the urgency and the gravity of the situation, the support divers swiftly took action to prepare their equipment and conduct thorough checks. But they could not advance more than 30 meters or 98 feet due to the turbidity.

As the minutes passed and the two civil guards gave no sign of life, hopes for a happy outcome began to dim, as did the cave itself. Night fell in the midst of an impressive deployment of troops to no avail. The first search operation, improvised and extremely risky, was suspended without results.

The rescue work did not stop, day or night. And although in the first hours, even in the first few days, there was a faint glimmer of hope that they may have found an air bubble between the water and the ceiling of the cave, the passing of days finally extinguished it definitively. The government delegate took charge of organizing an impressive rescue operation, mobilizing a diverse team of experts and professionals.

The operation included highly skilled divers from the Guardia Civil and the Navy Diving Center, experienced underwater speleologists, members of civil protection, and other specialized organizations dedicated to such operations.

The scale of the rescue effort was further amplified by the involvement of divers from various cities across Spain, showcasing the collaborative spirit and collective determination of those involved. It took the best specialists in Spain a painstaking 35 days to locate the bodies.

On May 1st, 1996, 34 days after the accident and after uninterrupted work, the lifeless body of Lieutenant Naranja was found 195 meters or 640 feet from the mouth of the cave. The following day, the body of the Guardia Antonio Sanchez was found 95 meters or 311 feet from the entrance to the same gallery, both in an advanced state of decomposition due to the high temperature of the water.

The Aftermath and Safety Measures

All of the media followed the incidents at the rescue with extensive information and photographs of the entrance of the cave. The tragic deaths of the GEAS divers and the French diver who ventured into the cave two decades earlier, never to resurface, prompted the authorities to take immediate action. Warning signs were installed at the mouth of the cave, serving as a solemn reminder of the perilous nature of the underwater labyrinth.

In an effort to enhance safety measures, the administration also erected fences to restrict access. However, the resolve of some individuals to challenge the dangers proved stronger than the physical barriers, resulting in the chains and the fins being broken by those who were willing to take the risk and venture into the cave, disregarding the potential consequences to their own lives.

Tragedy Strikes Again

With the short-lived fences, it was only a matter of time before tragedy struck again. This prophecy came to fruition 14 years later, as another incident unfolded within the cave’s depths. Antonio Pedro Martinez Ardes, a 41-year-old married man and employee of the Casco Antigua diving establishment in Mirchia, found himself trapped inside the labyrinth depths of the cave.

Despite his best efforts, he could not locate the path to freedom. It was already well past the dive time limit allowed by his tanks when his companions dialed for emergency services.

When the highly skilled specialists from GEAS arrived at the scene, a haunting sense of deja vu gripped their hearts. Memories of the tragic search for their two lost comrades 14 years ago resurfaced. Determined to rescue Antonio, two GEAS agents swiftly geared up and plunged into the water. However, they found that it was impossible to read even the watches on their wrists. Reluctantly, they had no choice but to retreat, and the search was called off.

The following morning, the GEAS diving expert who had arrived from Madrid the previous night commenced a renewed search operation. As the settling mud offered a glimmer of clarity, the team delved once more into the treacherous depths of the cave.

They held on to the possibility of a miracle, yearning to discover Antonio sheltered in an air pocket, ready to be guided towards the exit. Unfortunately, that would not be the case, and Quavada Aggro now had the death toll of four victims.

Commemoration and Future Exploration

In the wake of the fourth fatality in 2010, commemorative plaques were erected near the entrance of the cave as a tribute to the victims. A dedicated group of researchers and explorers remained adamant in their belief that the cave should be regarded as a realm of scientific discovery, emphasizing the importance of preserving its integrity rather than promoting it for tourism purposes.

Currently, the cave is still being explored by a group of cave divers from the region of Merchia called Grupo Cuava de Agua Limit 10,000, which has surveyed 6,956 meters or 22,825 feet of galleries. Their objective is to connect with a network of nearby caves and chasms to reach ten thousand meters or 32,808 feet.

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Where is Cueva Del Agua located?

Cueva Del Agua is located in the province of Almería, in Andalusia, Spain.

Is Cueva Del Agua open to the public?

Yes, Cueva Del Agua is open to the public for exploration and guided tours.

What makes Cueva Del Agua unique?

Cueva Del Agua is renowned for its stunning underwater passages and breathtaking formations.

Are there any dangers associated with exploring the cave?

Yes, the cave can be treacherous due to its underwater sections and challenging terrain. It’s important to follow safety guidelines and go with experienced guides.

Can beginners explore Cueva Del Agua?

Beginners can explore parts of the cave with proper guidance and training, but it’s recommended to have some prior experience and physical fitness for the more challenging sections.

Rebecca Penrose
Rebecca, an experienced blogger, delves into the world of diving accidents, sharing insights, stories, and valuable lessons learned. Dive in and explore the depths of underwater safety.
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