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37 years after the tragic sinking of the ship, during the Malvinas War, Daniel Ramírez, who lives in Cipolletti, tells how those days were and how he managed to get out alive.
A day like today, 37 years ago, Daniel Ramírez survived the collapse of the ARA General Belgrano.
Daniel Ramírez is in Santa Fe and at age 15 he enlisted in the Navy to never return to his town, San Lorenzo. Now he lives in Cipolletti and there he wrote his book “Balsas: effort and abnegation in the South Atlantic”, in which he describes everything that had to happen to save himself from the collapse of the ARA General Belgrano , on May 2, 1982, in the middle of the war. of Malvinas. Reliving that was not easy. Today, his memory is the only thing intact.
The man remembers that Sunday, when they were hit by two torpedoes fired by the Conqueror, a British nuclear submarine that caused the sinking. As a result of this attack, 323 Argentine soldiers lost their lives, of whom 220 were between 17 and 20 years old. Casualties accounted for almost half of the losses the country suffered throughout the armed conflict.
When he enlisted, the Navy appeared to some as a cure for young people who were considered troubled, but also as an opportunity for families who could not afford higher education. ‘
“Here we reform tormentors” was the phrase they used as a joke to change the meaning of the acronym ARA. It was not his case, he clarifies. His brother was already part of the forces and had convinced him of the benefits and possibilities of study offered.
Daniel ended up getting ready.
Within the Armed Forces, they were trained first in electronics and then in repair of radars and radiofrequency detection. At age 21, he was assigned to a workshop at the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base, where a series of events took place that would take him to embark on the ARA Belgrano.
He tells that in that port there was a non-commissioned officer who they ordered to board, but his partner was very ill and his desire was to accompany her and take care of her. “I volunteered,” he says, puffing up his chest. “Nobody thought that ship was going to sink.”
This huge cruise had been purchased from the United States Navy in 1951, when it was called the USS Phoenix. According to information that Daniel could gather, not long before the war, the ARA Belgrano was going to be sold to the United States. It would be reformed and transformed into a museum. “It was 40 years since the attack on Pearl Harbor and it was the only one left,” he says.
In Argentina, its destiny was also historic: it was the only ship sunk by a nuclear submarine in history, and the casualties that it generated implied 50% of the fallen ones during all the confrontation.
Thus, Corporal Primero Ramírez, of Electronic specialty in Radars, and with Electronic Countermeasures orientation, was part of one of the most tragic chapters of the war.
Ramírez was on duty and was responsible for the technical maintenance of the radars.
During those 16 days of navigation prior to the bombing, they also simulated anti-aircraft attacks, practiced fire-fighting strategies and rehearsed abandoning the ship. Something that finally “served as a great help to get out alive,” he acknowledges.
On the afternoon of Sunday, May 2, the conscript Berti woke him, after several minutes of tossing and turning in bed. Already up, while looking for his clothes, he felt the blow on the helmet. The ship had just been hit by the first of the torpedoes fired by the British nuclear submarine that had been following General Belgrano’s trail for several hours.
In a few minutes a large part of that gigantic mass of steel had burned down.
Immediately the light was cut off, and the corridors were filled with soldiers running and shouting, many of them wrapped in fire.
“He was able to perceive smells like sulfur, charred flesh, burned hair, plastic”, he enumerates with a precision that hurts.
“Somebody approached me, but I could not distinguish who he was. Its burning head of a bluish greenish color ended in a strong yellow. He fell in front of me, I felt his body between my legs. At that moment I noticed that my feet were wet and that the inert body of that person had disappeared under the water”
“The political or strategic reasons of the war do not cure death or heal the wounds of the soul,” warns Daniel. “You can not survive so much improvisation and carelessness”, repeats itself in the memory like a deafening echo.
The stairs were destroyed by fire and explosion. The only space to get out of there was a 60-centimeter iron tube with a ladder in the middle. Opening it was difficult; the shock wave had deformed everything and the openings had run square. By the time it was possible to enter, the water was close to covering them completely.
Almost without clothes and covered in oil by the explosion, Daniel was able to reach the surface with much effort. The image he saw was bleak. The ship was practically heeled, and the back was already seen as the waves hit the smoke.
The structure had been folded and for what was left to walk, people came and went helping the wounded. The image was mixed with the mixture of oil and oil that covered his eyes and that every so often, someone cleaned to see him walk wobbly. “It seemed as if the bow had been struck by the bite of a giant sea monster,” he imagined.
Jump to the void
The order of abandonment was given and when it appeared to the board it could take magnitude of what was happening: “men swimming trying to hold on to something, rest of all type floated in the water and hit the helmet by the force of the wind and waves “.
When he threw himself on the roof of the raft, a rain of men began to fall on him. He got into the water and grabbed another empty raft that was nearby.
“When I fell into the water I felt as if thousands of needles pricked me, but being bathed in the oil of the explosion helped me to endure it”
By the time he was able to enter, there were already several people inside.
He had to be at the height of a door window and could look out. In a way he felt privileged not to be in the darkest. Urination was perceived as one of the most pleasant moments. The temperature of the pee to forget for a few seconds the 10 degrees below zero that their bodies had to endure for almost 48 hours.
At night, the guilt became unbearable: hearing the agonizing cries for help, in the distance, was endless torture.
They had little more than 24 hours immersed in the fragile security provided by the fact of being contained in the flooded rafts, when they were spotted by a ship.
A mechanical failure prevented him from stopping and removing them from that torture. The rescue had to wait another day and the fear of not leaving alive grew there. They began to weaken and their bodies did not respond.
“The second night arrived. I felt that the arms did not react, my whole body hurt and I could not stretch my legs, “he recalls.
They started worrying because it was going to get dark again and the storm got worse. The life expectancy was reduced and in the middle of that anguish, and with the day escaping between the waves that did not stop growing, they were finally rescued by the ARA Gurruchaga during the early morning of May 5th.
793 soldiers were picked that Wednesday, among whom 23 were found dead.
“I was stunned and felt like I was in a horror movie. Two people took me by the arm where they took off our clothes wet and full of oil, “he said.
“After a while they gave me a jar of broth and then I understood what had happened. ‘ I saved myself’, I thought, I felt heat and that took me out of the numbness I had. “
Source: Rio Negro