(Google Translation) – It was an arduous and painful operation in which ships and aircraft participated, with the slogan of not leaving any sailor behind.
The operation itself was a great feat, but it was also a great pain. In a sea of uncertainty for not knowing what had happened to the ship, but with the suspicion of the worst, 6 hours after the wreck, a search and rescue operation for possible survivors was ordered.
From Rio Grande, the Naval Air Exploration Squadron deployed its Neptune aircraft. The first of them was 2P-112 under the command of the then Lieutenant Commander Ernesto Proni Leston, who flew for about 9 hours risking doing so at very low altitude, but without being able to detect signs of the cruise. The destroyers ARA “Piedrabuena” and ARA “Bouchard” were added, patrolling the area, plus the warning ARA “Gurruchaga” and the polar ship converted to hospital ARA “Bahía Paraíso”, which had a helicopter.
The Neptune returned to its base at 6.30 the following day and its relief was 2P-111 under the command of Lieutenant Commander Julio Pérez Roca. Bad weather, poor visibility, low temperatures and a severe storm hindered aerial exploration, added to the fact that the drifting rafts had drifted some 80 kilometers to the southeast of the sinking site.
They could only be spotted at noon the next day by the other Neptune of Naval Aviation who, about to run out of enough fuel for his return to the continent, decided to “make one more pass” in search of his comrades.
Added to this was the determination of the crew aboard the “Gurruchaga”, the “Bouchard”, the “Piedrabuena” and the “Bahía Paraíso”, who were the ones who rescued the castaways. No one gave up or spared efforts to save their peers, and that attitude of commitment was reflected in a phrase from the Commander of the “Gurruchaga”, Lieutenant Commander Álvaro Vásquez: “Until the last raft.”
More than 20 hours had passed since the sinking. The “Gurruchaga” rescued 3 rafts with 40 survivors; the “Bouchard” two with 41 survivors; and the “Piedrabuena” rescued 5 rafts (one empty), with 42 survivors. By aircraft information, 30 more rafts were estimated afloat, they reported at 5:50 p.m. from the “Piedrabuena”, the first ship to make contact with the shipwrecked. Then they would find dozens more rafts counting on air support reinforced by a BE 200 aircraft (4G 44), an L-188 (5-T-1) and an F-28 (5-T-21). The Chilean Antarctic ship “Piloto Pardo” and the Soviet fishing vessel “Belokámensk” also offered their help to this humanitarian rescue task.
The painful and selfless prowess of the crew of these ships and aircraft that participated in the operation was reflected in countless acts of courage, solidarity and a spirit of sacrifice, day and night, without rest and in hostile conditions. Such is the case of the notice “Gurruchaga”, a small boat that rescued 360 castaways, more than 4 times its number. Or from the “Piedrabuena”, with 300 crew members he was able to save around 270 of the cruise ship. Also the “Bouchard”, which continued to rescue shipwrecked people despite suffering a breakdown in its machines.
At noon on May 4, the ARA “Bahía Paraíso” was picking up the last 18 living crew members of the cruise ship. They were about 100 km from the sinking point and 43 hours had passed.
On May 5, the “Piedrabuena”, the “Bouchard” and the “Gurruchaga” arrived in Ushuaia to disembark the hundreds of castaways. In total, 793 crew members were rescued. By noon on May 4, the 770 survivors had already been recovered. Until May 9, empty rafts or rafts with deceased crew members continued to be recovered. The “Bahía Paraíso” found the last rafts with lifeless bodies.