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History and Heritage

The Path of Solidarity

Five Decades Later, the Hike Continues

The town of Jerez del Marquesado sits just at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the province of Granada, not far from the southern coast of Spain.

The quaint town looks similar to the many of the countless "pueblo blanco" villages you could easily pass right by on a Sunday drive through the Spanish countryside.

The difference between the other towns and Jerez del Marquesado, however, is the deeply-rooted hospitality based on extraordinary reasons. For Americans, and particularly Sailors, the relationship is a special one that happened by circumstance more than 54 years ago, but exists just as strong today.

On March 8, 1960, a DC-4 "Skymaster" was traveling from Naples, Italy to Rota, Spain when the aircraft was forced to make a crash landing in the snowy Sierra Nevada mountainside, 7,600 feet above the tiny town below. Two of the personnel on board were able to make the trek down the mountain, only to discover none of the local residents spoke English. Using a newspaper, they folded it in to the shape of a plane and were able to communicate the crash that had taken place.

In the two days following, volunteers made countless trips up the mountain, using mules to assist in getting the injured down. The efforts resulted in all 24 on board surviving the crash.

Five years ago, the town opened a special hiking path called "el Sendero Solidario el Avin," or in English, "The Path of Solidarity to the Aircraft," to commemorate the event's 50th anniversary. On Sept. 6, Commander, U.S. Naval Activities Spain, Capt. Greg Pekari, along with Jerez del Marquesado Mayor, Antonio Gamez Martos, and hundreds of local residents traveled the same path to the crash site that rescuers took 54 years earlier.

Addressing the townspeople in Spanish before the event, Pekari relayed the significance of the event and its impact on our Navy's history.

"In the Navy we are guided daily by our core values of honor, courage, and commitment and I am certain those same values were the driving force behind the heroic efforts here 54 years ago," said Pekari. "From that day forward, those 24 lives were forever changed, and our Navy was greater because of it. I want to thank you for the part you played in that-for the survivors, for their families, and for our Navy."

The nine-hour hike to the crash site and back took travelers over rocky terrain, up steep inclines and across some extremely rugged landscape.

"Hiking up the mountain really gives you an appreciation for the sacrifice the residents of Jerez del Marquesado made so many years ago," said Pekari. "And we were able to make the hike under ideal conditions and it was still tough ... it really speaks to the courage and selflessness that's ingrained into the history of this great town and its citizens."

One additional feature of the weekend in September was the inclusion of a 24-kilometer mountain race from Jerez del Marquesado to the neighboring town of Lanteira. The brutal course brought out some of Spain's elite trail runners, but also a few local Sailors and base employees.

"The course was one of the toughest races I've ever competed in," said Lt. Jose Colon, Naval Station Rota's assistant security officer and one of this year's race participants. "The rocky terrain, steep hills, and lack of oxygen made this run especially tough. What made the entire experience worthwhile though was the welcome we received throughout the entire weekend from the local residents. Being able to do the race was just a bonus."

By definition solidarity is the "union or fellowship arising from common responsibilities and interests," and the hike signifying those heroic efforts more than five decades ago is aptly named.
"We've always enjoyed a strong partnership with our Spanish hosts," said Pekari. "Towns like Jerez del Marquesado and its citizens only strengthen that bond further."