U.S. Navy Intensifies Hunt For Missing Submarine—After Satellite Calls Raise Hope for Crew

Tom Porter

The U.S. Navy is sending a third plane to search for a missing Argentinian submarine—after failed satellite calls likely from the vessel raised hopes that its 44 crew members remain alive.

Argentina’s navy said it detected seven brief satellite calls late Saturday that officials believe may have come from the ARA San Juan, which has been missing since last Wednesday.


File picture released by Telam showing the ARA San Juan submarine being delivered to the Argentine Navy after being repaired at the Argentine Naval Industrial Complex (CINAR) in Buenos Aires, on May 23, 2014. ALEJANDRO MORTIZ/AFP/Getty Images

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The communication attempts "indicate that the crew is trying to re-establish contact, so we are working to locate the source of the emissions," the navy said on its Twitter account. "The calls of a short duration, between 4 and 36 seconds, were received between 10:52 and 10:42 on Saturday at different bases."

Late Saturday, the U.S. Navy announced it would send a P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance plane with a crew of 21 from Jacksonville, Florida, on Sunday,  joining a  NASA P-3 plane and another Navy P-8 already taking part in the search.

The Navy has also sent two undersea rescue systems to Argentina aboard four U.S. Air Force cargo planes.

The U.S. planes are joining Argentinian naval planes in the search, with countries including Britain. Chile and South Africa also offering assistance.

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The search and rescue operation has so far been hampered by high winds and 20 foot waves in the South Pacific. 

The ARA San Juan, which was 268 miles off Argentina’s southern Atlantic coast when it sent its last communication early on Wednesday.

The submarine likely tried to make seven satellite calls on Saturday between late morning and early afternoon, the Argentine defense ministry said. Stormy weather likely interfered with the calls, and the government was working with an unidentified U.S. company specialized in satellite communication to trace the location. 

“Yesterday’s news was something of a respite for us, to know that there is life,” Claudio Rodriguez, the brother of a crew member, said in an interview with television channel A24 on Sunday morning.

A search of 80 percent of the area initially targeted for the operation turned up no sign of the vessel on the ocean surface, but the crew should have ample supplies of food and oxygen, according to Argentine navy spokesman Enrique Balbi.

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The navy said an electrical outage on the diesel-electric-propelled vessel might have downed its communications. Protocol calls for submarines to surface if communication is lost. 

Family members of the crew gathered at a naval base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata, where the submarine had been destined to arrive. 

Argentine President Mauricio Macri said in a tweet Saturday that the country will use "all resources national and international that are necessary to find the submarine."

Argentine-born Pope Francis mentioned the missing vessel in his Sunday noon prayer. 

“I also pray for the men of the crew of the Argentine military submarine which is missing,” the pontiff said. 

The dramatic search has captivated the nation of 44 million, which recently mourned the loss of five citizens killed when a truck driver plowed through a bicycle path in New York City. 

The ARA San Juan was inaugurated in 1983, making it the newest of the three submarines in the navy’s fleet. Built in Germany by Nordseewerke, it underwent mid-life maintenance in 2008 in Argentina.

This article was first written by Newsweek

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