It looks like the Indonesian Navy submarine that disappeared yesterday during routine naval exercises has fallen too deep to retrieve, meaning the 53 crewmembers onboard are likely doomed - if they're not dead already.
Authorities said oxygen in the submarine would run out by early Saturday.
"Hopefully we can rescue them before the oxygen has run out" at 3 a.m. on Saturday, Indonesia’s navy chief of staff, Adm. Yudo Margono, told reporters.
He said rescuers found an unidentified object with high magnetism in the area and that officials hope it’s the submarine.
The diesel-powered KRI Nanggala 402 was participating in a training exercise Wednesday when it missed a scheduled reporting call. Officials reported an oil slick and the smell of diesel fuel near the starting position of its last dive, about 96 kilometers (60 miles) north of the resort island of Bali, though there's no evidence conclusively linking this to the sub, many took it as a disturbing sign that something went wrong.
As of Thursday morning, the navy fears the worst: the expectation is that the submarine sank to a depth of 600-700 meters (2,000-2,300 feet), much deeper than its collapse depth estimated at 200 meters (656 feet). The estimate is from a firm that refitted the vessel in 2009-2012. Experts said the water pressure could cause the submarine to collapse in on itself, instantly killing everybody on board, if it dives too deep.
Ahn Guk-hyeon, an official from South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, said the submarine would collapse if it goes deeper than around 200 meters because of pressure. He said his company upgraded much of the Indonesian submarine’s internal structures and systems but it lacks latest information about the vessel.
Frank Owen, secretary of the Submarine Institute of Australia, also said the submarine could be at too great a depth for a rescue team to operate.
"Most rescue systems are really only rated to about 600 meters (1,969 feet)," he said. "They can go deeper than that because they will have a safety margin built into the design, but the pumps and other systems that are associated with that may not have the capacity to operate. So they can survive at that depth, but not necessarily operate."
And unfortunately for the crew, the missing sub was never retrofitted with a rescue system, which means an underwater rescue would be virtually impossible.
Owen, a former submariner who developed an Australian submarine rescue system, said the Indonesian vessel was not fitted with a rescue seat around an escape hatch designed for underwater rescues. He said a rescue submarine would make a waterproof connection to a disabled submarine with a so-called skirt fitted over the recue seat so that the hatch can be opened without the disabled submarine filling with water. Owen said the submarine could be recovered from 500 meters (1,640 feet) without any damage but couldn’t say if it would have imploded at 700 meters (2,297 feet).
At this point, it looks like the missing Indonesian sub and its crew will suffer the same fate as a missing Argentine submarine that disappeared a few years back. Its wreckage wasn't located until a year later, long after its crew had been condemned to a watery fate after the vessel "imploded".