Crew Of Missing Argentine Submarine Makes Contact Attempt

Argentinians breathed a collective sigh of relief Saturday night after authorities revealed that the crew of a missing submarine had attempted to make contact for the first time since communication with the sub suddenly ceased on Wednesday. Defense Minister Oscar Aguad said over Twitter on Saturday night that the submarine, which was carrying a crew of 44 sailors, had sent seven “communication attempts” earlier in the day. He did not provide further details.

“We received seven signals from satellite calls that would come from the submarine San Juan. We are working hard to locate him and we convey hope to the families of the 44 crew members: that they may soon have them in their homes.”

The vessel disappeared from radar last week, forcing the Argentine navy to hastily organize a search and recovery effort. The last registered position of the vessel was on November 15 at 07:30 in latitude 46 ° 44 ‘south and longitude 59 ° 54 West, at the height of Puerto Madryn and off the coast of Patagonia. Since then, the vessel has not reappeared on radar, or been spotted by the search party, according to the Associated Press.

The whereabouts of the vessel, the subject of an intensive search involving eight nations including the US, remains a mystery. Officials don’t even know whether it’s at the surface or underwater.

The submarine ARA San Juan left Argentina Monday to participate in naval exercises off southern Argentina before departing Monday from the city of Ushuaia for a naval base in Mar de Plata. The last contact was made after the northbound vessel passed the Valdes Peninsula about 270 miles off Argentina’s coast.

NASA joined the search effort on Saturday with a P-3 Orion propeller-driven patrol airplane, equipped with magnetometers, infrared cameras and other sensors that can detect a submerged submarine. The aircraft, which can also measure ice thickness, is temporarily based in Ushuaia to take part in a NASA survey of Antarctica.

Argentine naval officials said they received no distress signals from the vessel, a German-built TR-1700 model, before losing contact. Vessels from Chile, Brazil, Peru, Uruguay, South Africa and the United Kingdom are also assisting in the search.

Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, said in a statement issued by the Vatican earlier Saturday that he was praying for the safe return of the submarine and its crew, and for “spiritual serenity and Christian hope” for Argentina. He said he felt especially close to family members “in these difficult moments."

Anguished family members of the crew have gathered at the Mar de Plata base awaiting news.

“It’s agonizing the passing of the hours, a mixture of horrible feelings and silence,” said Marcela Moyano, wife of submarine machinist Hernan Rodriguez, in an interview at the base with TodoNoticias TV channel before Aguad’s announcement. “It’s a situation of desperation and fear. But we’re still hopeful they are returning,” according to the Associated Press.

Of the missing sub’s 44 crew members, one is a woman: Lt. Eliana Maria Krawczyk, 34, the sub’s operations chief. Her father, Eduardo, said in a TV interview Thursday that he last talked to his daughter two weeks ago.

“She told me that after arriving at Tierra del Fuego, that the (female) governor of the state came aboard the submarine and congratulated her because a woman was on the crew,” Eduardo Krawczyk said. He added that he is praying for his daughter’s safe return and that seeing her again will be like “being born again."

Psychologists and a Roman Catholic bishop have arrived at the naval base to counsel family members. Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said the fleet was “not discarding any hypothesis” on what might have happened to the sub.  “We are going to suppose the submarine had problems of communications, that there might have been a blackout, or power failure, and that it is now adrift,” Balbi said. “From (projected) movement after going adrift, we can estimate the search area."

The diesel-powered sub is one of three submarines in Argentina’s fleet. Measuring 220 feet long, the sub has a range of 13,000 miles. It underwent a major overhaul and reconditioning in 2008 that officials here say qualified it for 30 years more of use.

But weather in the search area has turned rough, with strong winds and waves as high as 20 feet, complicating the rescue operation, Balbi said.

“Remember that the part of the submarine that is above surface is very small, just a third of its length. The color of the vessel doesn’t help either because it mimics that of the ocean,” Balbi told reporters.

Argentine President Mauricio Macri tweeted Friday that the government is doing everything it can to find the sub: “We are in contact with the families of the crew of the submarine ARA San Juan who is missing to inform and support them. We share your concern and that of all Argentines."

Four Argentine ships, various helicopters and 500 marines are participating in the search.