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Spanish army
Ministry of Defence
Spanish army

Ejército de Tierra

Feature Articles

Monday, July 22, 2019

Number: 86

It was May in Ifni

Corporal first class Ángel Canales López

2nd Paratrooper Command


It’s May 2019 in Murcia, the place where the first paratrooper to be decorated with the Individual Military Medal, now 87 years old, thinks back on his long life knowing that one spring, many years ago, he had an epic adventure which he responded to in an epic way. It is May and he knows that the best people he’s ever known have passed away in May. He remembers…


It was May in Ifni



It was May in Ifni

The T-2 Junker is warming up its engines. Lieutenant Calvo Goñi, as leader, prepares to leave the plane. Visibility is about 5 kilometres, there are clouds at more than 500 metres and the wind force is around 12 knots. Inside a paratrooper patrol from the Army is ready to carry out a training mission with a jump over Tiliuin. It is the 8th of May 1957 in Ifni.

The patrol is from the 2nd Paratrooper Group. Corporal first class Ángel Canales López and his team don’t yet know that the mission will not consist in parachuting into Tiliuin. Instead, their mission, which will take place scarcely 100 metres from where the plane is currently getting ready, will be more dangerous and painful than what they could have anticipated.

Around 09:15 the Junker takes off, but then it starts a manoeuvre which they all feel is strange. Looking towards the ground they see a cloud of black fumes in the left engine, signalling the beginning of the disaster. Quickly, with the crew unable to do anything, the equipment falls and crashes to the ground. Soon the fire takes hold and the plane is engulfed by flames. Corporal first class Canales has been badly injured and Lieutenants Díaz and Lima, Warrant officer class two Chirino and Corporal telegraphist Atienza (from the vehicle crew) are dead. Lieutenant Cañadas, Corporals first class Vargas and Cuesta, and Corporal Cobos and the privates from the parachute brigade jump squad Zúñiga, Benítez, Tabares and Gómez have also died, as well as Commander Escuín, from the Ifni Gunners, who joined the flight at the last minute in order to be reunited with his soldiers in Tiliuin.

It was May in Ifni

The Junker is now a ball of flames, and Ángel, who had been left unconscious by the huge impact when the plane hit the earth, is now awake, and realises he must act quickly. Although he is seriously injured, he manages to rescue Paratrooper Diego Fernández, moving him away from the flames. He knows that if he goes back he will be burnt. Already, his skin is covered in blisters caused by the flames and he has serious burns on his face and hands. He can barely use his hands because of the pain caused by each and every touch, but he’s not going to give up trying to save his comrades for the ‘little reason’ that he could die. He goes back inside the flaming vehicle, pushing and crawling on his elbows, and manages to get Paratrooper Carlos Ramos out, saving his life.

At that moment Lieutenant Sagast and three paratroopers arrive, who saw the disaster from the ground. The lieutenant, upon seeing the state in which Corporal first class Canales finds himself - almost blind, skin and spirit scorched - orders him to leave so that they can evacuate the site. And what does Ángel do? Like any good soldier he says no, he’ll stay there to help get his comrades out, even if all he can do is comfort them by telling them not to worry, he will stay there. He will always be there. Thanks to his quick action and his bravery, five privates are saved.

It was May in Ifni

The text which accompanies the Individual Military Medal says: although he was seriously injured in a plane accident, Corporal first class Canales put his life at risk to save his comrades and crew members from a burning plane, showing great bravery by carrying out the hardest job himself, and demonstrating a great spirit of sacrifice and pure comradeship. He is awarded the Individual Military Medal (Circular Order, 1st of August 1959. The Army’s Official Newspaper no. 170).

When they evacuate to the hospital, the doctors, seeing Ángel’s condition, are sure that they won’t be able to save his life because of the serious burns on his skin. He can’t see for a number of days. He thinks that he is going to be blind forever and he has no use of his arms. But the real pain comes when he thinks of his lost comrades: José, Juan, Luis, Pepe, Diego, Manuel, José, Carlos, Adolfo, José, Eduardo and Agustín.

It was May in Ifni

Returning to his life wasn’t going to be easy. Corporal first class Canales spent 103 days in hospital in Sidi Ifni recovering from his intense injuries. From this time he remembers the ailments and a nun who looked after him throughout his recovery and whom he always considered a second mother.

This time he guessed that May 2019 was his May, because he knew that in May all the best passed away, although he also knows that old soldiers never die, they just fade away.

It was May in Ifni

It’s May. It is 2019, and the first paratrooper to be decorated with the Individual Military Medal fades away with that gentle and brave touch which all ex-soldiers have: “Of course, they won’t cremate me, I’ve already been burnt once, and I don’t want to relive the experience.”