Narrow Escape: Xisco Gràcia’s Harrowing Journey from Darkness to Rescue

Incident LocationDiver Full Names
Spain, Cova de sa Piqueta in ManacorXisco Gràcia

In 2017, a Spanish cave diver got trapped inside an air pocket in a dark underwater cave at the Cova de sa Piqueta in Manacor, Spain. His diving buddy tried to find his way out of the cave was detected in the only yet-to-be-explored pool at the western side of the Cove de Sa Piqueta. Some cave divers decided to return to further explore the cave; they spent more than 55 days on this endeavor. Several new chambers were discovered with a total length of 18,307 ft (5,580 m).

The Cosa de Sa Piqueta is now 28,215 ft (8,600 m) long, of which 20,498 ft (6,385 m) are underwater. The cave has six systems altogether. The Coves del Pirata sector and the Coves des Pont sector share the same underwater connection, and the other four form a single interconnected underwater zone, which is all together 18,701 ft (5,700 m) of development and an area of about 38,230 m2.

Introducing Xisco Gràcia

Xisco Gracia is a 54-year-old Spanish man and the father of two children: a boy of 15 years and a girl of 9 years. He is a geology teacher in Mallorca, Spain. He spends most of his weekends doing what he loves—cave diving. Exploring and mapping the underwater cave complexes on the island of Spain are the most enjoyable moments for him.

The Fateful Dive

On April 15, 2017, Xisco Gracia and his friend, Guillem Mascaro, went for exploration at the Cova de sa Piqueta in Manacor, Spain. The two friends dove into the water for about sixty minutes before getting to a network of underwater caves. When they got into the cave, Xisco collected different samples of rock for a few minutes.

Guillem, on the other hand, was busy charting a nearby chamber. Everything was going smoothly all through their journey into the cave and their research time in the cave. Their misery began when they were about to return to the surface. Within a few minutes, every circumstance within the cave was just against them. The two of them, who had already gone separate ways for their various activities, met unexpectedly at a junction in the cave.

Trapped in Darkness

They both have stirred up silt from the bottom of the cave, turning the water into total murkiness and thereby reducing the visibility to zero. They could no longer see each other. As if that wasn’t enough, they wanted to blindly find a way out of the cave, only to find out that their nylon-wire guideline had broken. Every diver knows that even if you cannot see what is before you, with a guideline, you can still figure your way out of a complex cave system.

But here are Xisco and Guillem, both in a dark cave with broken guidelines; how would they get out? They resolved to search for the guideline and connect the two broken ends again. The planned time within the cave was extended because of the search, and before they knew it, they were already running out of gas in their cylinders and their emergency supplies were almost gone too.

To save themselves from the possibility of running out of air completely in the dark cave, they went to stay in an air pocket that was very close to them. They both knew that the remaining gas could not take the two of them out of the cave. So, Xisco decided to stay in the air pocket while Guillem would go out to call for help since he was not as chubby as his friend.

He would use less air for breathing, and Xisco was also more experienced in breathing higher levels of carbon dioxide, which is the component of air in the cave. Guillem didn’t want to leave his friend alone in the cave, but both are only faced with two options: either they die together in the cave or he goes and calls for help. Xisco sat on a flat rock above the water’s surface to take some rest as Guillem started his journey toward the exit without a guideline.

Xisco’s Solitude in the Dark Cave

The chamber of the cave was about 260 ft (79 m) long and 65 ft (20 m) wide, and the height between the water and the roof of the cave is about 40 ft (12 m). Gracia was sitting alone in the dark cave with the expectation of rescuers coming for him anytime soon. Out of his three flashlights, only one was left working, so he had to switch it off to conserve the battery.

Several thoughts flipped through his mind as he wondered why he had to experience this condition after spending so many years diving. But he kept hope alive, but that was just for seven to eight hours after Guillem had left, thinking he must have reached the surface. As time passed and there was no sound, Xisco gave up hope of survival.

He thought his friend must have gotten lost and died in the cave, and no one would ever know he was down there at the bottom of the lake. Experiences cannot override the effect of breathing in high levels of carbon dioxide for Xisco. He had the experience of staying in this condition, but after several hours, his body began to react to the strange air in his system.

The carbon dioxide was about a hundred times higher than that above ground. That’s too much to bear for the body system. He began to suffer from a headache; his brain was whirring, and he could not even catch a nap; he was exhausted from a lack of oxygen. Hope arose for Xisco in his new dark abode, as he began to hear the sound of bubbles from a diver emerging and also saw some lights in the lake, but little did he know that he was hallucinating.

When he turned his head, they weren’t real. Those hours seemed like days to him. He continued to wait for a rescue; possibly his friend could have made it out, but he wasn’t sure. Then, another sound came from above him; this time, it was louder than the first. It was like the sound of cylinders being filled with air for the rescue team.

Later, he saw that it looked like they were drilling through the rock. Joy sprang up in him as his hope for living was restored, and he thought within himself that they had come to rescue him. But the joy soon faded away as the noise he was formerly hearing subsided. No more noise. No more rescues. Another hallucination. He thought of stabbing himself with his knife, but before he could injure himself, he heard the noise again.

The sound of bubbles and a diver’s light was becoming brighter and getting closer. Is this going to be another hallucination for Xisco or a reality for escaping the death that had held on tight to him? The answer came to him with the emergence of a diver’s helmet that showed up from the water. Then he knew this was real and that he was no longer in an unreal world.

Rescue and Reunion

The rescue team is around, but the poor visibility within the cave has greatly hindered them from swimming to his location. So, they thought of drilling a hole to pass food and oxygen to him, but that wasn’t successful. So, they sent some rescuers searching for him, but fortunately, Bernat Clamor was the first to find him.

When he got a glimpse of Bernat, who happened to be his long-time friend, he jumped into the water to hug him. Bernat asked him about his welfare and said he had been afraid, thinking he had lost him to the cold hand of death. Bernat still had to return to the rest of the team and tell them that Xisco had been found.

Xisco now had the assurance of getting out of the cave within the next eight hours. These hours would be his happiest moments since he was left alone in the cave. A cylinder with air enriched with oxygen was handed over to him for breathing. The rescue team led him out of the cave slowly. He got out of the cave late on the night of the third day, sixty hours after he initially entered the cave with his friend.

Recovery and Return

At the surface was his friend, Guillem, with whom they had entered together; the two embraced each other within a short time as Xisco was taken off in an ambulance. The temperature of his body was close to hypothermia, at 31°C (88 °F). He was given pure oxygen to breathe overnight. He stayed calm until he saw the TV show of his rescue the following day.

He only stayed home for a month before returning to the Sa Piqueta caves for further exploration. He couldn’t just forfeit his hobby because of his narrow escape. He had spent 24 years exploring the world below water, and that was already induced into his bloodstream; he will always return there no matter what.

Before your next dive, consider insurance – it’s like having a dive buddy for unexpected challenges. Dive safe, dive covered. Explore options here


What happened during the incident at Cova de sa Piqueta in Manacor, Spain?

During an exploration dive in 2017, Xisco Gracia and his friend Guillem Mascaro got trapped in a dark underwater cave after losing visibility and breaking their guideline. They ended up in separate locations, and Xisco decided to stay in an air pocket while Guillem went for help.

How long were they trapped in the cave?

Xisco Gracia spent approximately 60 hours alone in the dark cave before being rescued.

How did Xisco survive during his time in the cave?

To conserve air, Xisco stayed in an air pocket close to his location. He had limited supplies and relied on his experience to handle the high levels of carbon dioxide in the cave. The rescue team eventually located him and provided him with oxygen-enriched air for breathing.

How did the rescue team find Xisco in the cave?

The poor visibility within the cave hindered direct swimming to Xisco’s location, so the rescue team attempted to drill a hole and send supplies through, but this was unsuccessful. Eventually, Bernat Clamor, a member of the rescue team and Xisco’s longtime friend, found him and led the team to his location.

What happened after the rescue?

Xisco Gracia was safely brought out of the cave and reunited with his friend Guillem. He received medical attention and recovered from the ordeal. After a month of rest, he returned to cave diving and continued exploring the Sa Piqueta caves, as his passion for underwater exploration remained strong.

Patrick Broin
Patrik, a seasoned cave diver, shares his first-hand experiences and expert insights on the treacherous world of cave diving accidents.
All diving accidents