The Italian military parachuting remembers the November 9 as one of the most tragic days of its entire history. On that dreadful day a Royal Air Force’s Hercules C-130 crashed at the sandbanks of Meloria, a few kilometers from Livorno, bringing with them the lives of six british Airmen and 46 paratroopers of Folgore Brigade.

In the 1970s the Folgore Parachute Brigade was in full revitalization. Years before, the Italian Army General Staff, always distrustful about the paratroopers, finally realized that the only elite force at his disposal were the Folgore guys, the only ones who can be deployed alongside the other allied NATO troops without inferiority complex. Italian Air Force planes were obsolete, and on several occasions the Italian soldiers took advantage of the Allied aircraft: for the 1971 annual exercise “Cold Stream” the British RAF provided some Hercules C-130, certainly much more modern than Italian’s Fairchild C-119. Onboard british C-130 – marked by the radio code “Gesso 4” – boarded the Maroon Berets of 6th company Draghi (today Grifi).

Meloria’s sandbanks

After a brief  on the runway taxiing, the RAF’s Lieutenant Colin G. Harrison  pointing his bow towards Sardinia. A few minutes later the plane did not respond to mission commander’s calls: something had happened. The air-crew of another military plane had noticed smoke and fire not far from Livorno and soon it became clear that the C-130 “Gesso 4” was rushed. The first rescuers squad were immediately alerted and Folgore Operations Officer boarded a helicopter AB-205 and heads for the point of impact that everyone had identified on the Meloria’s sandbanks. Law enforcement, ambulances, fire department, together with the Army and Navy boats conveyed in that sector where floated backpacks, parachutes, equipment, and several paratroopers’ bodies, but not all. Most of the victims were, in fact, entombed on the seabed and retrieve them would not be easy. Weather conditions were prohibitive and diving into the deep grey sea in those conditions really took great courage.

Saboteur Giannino Caria

Along with civilian and military rescuers arrived on sea site a small boat, the “Buscaglia” sailed from Army Saboteur’s base (now Base Addestramento Incursori – Raiders Training Base). The vessel was conducted by Giuseppe Vit, a veteran saboteur, together with Lt. Enrico Persi Paoli and Sergeant Major Giannino Caria. The saboteurs, then Incursori of 9th “Col Moschin,” were the army’s élite even though not yet well known. They conducted mysterious training and missions were always classified. Their expertise in aquatic environment was of a high standard, strengthened by courses that any saboteur attended at the Navy’s COMSUBIN (Navy Commandos).

The crash site was crowded by boats that kept coming and going from Livorno’s docks, carrying what they could recover: the dead were all young conscripts and their families began the macabre ritual of recognition of remains.

Aboard the Buscaglia all were in a bad mood and despite the weather Sergeant Caria was ready to dive. The day before, as Staff Sergeant Paolo Frediani said, Caria wasn’t quiet, he wouldn’t want to see the torment of those young lifeless paratroopers at the bottom of the sea. To facilitate relief efforts and increase the chances to retrieve all the bodies, civilian divers were attached to the military but their experience – in some cases – was very questionable. Lt. Enrico Persi Paoli didn’t take the news too well: he knew that the risks were very serious and the presence of unprepared divers could cause some complications.