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Argentinians lose hope for sub rescue

  • Relatives of missing submarine crew member Celso Oscar Vallejo, react to the news that a sound detected during the search for the ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion, at the Mar de Plata Naval Base in Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. A Navy spokesman said that the relatives of the crew have been informed and that the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the submarine. He said there was no sign the explosion might be linked to any attack on the sub. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • A man ties an Argentine flag carrying solidarity messages to a fence at the Mar de Plata Naval Base after the navy announced a sound detected during the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion, in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. A Navy spokesperson said the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of thes ubmarine, adding there was no sign the explosion might be linked to any attack. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • A seaman looks out from a checkpoint window that shows the reflection of a fence blanketed with national flags and homemade signs in support of submarine crew members of the missing ARA San Juan, at the naval base in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. More help was arriving in a multinational search Thursday for the Argentine submarine with 44 crew members as concern grew that the vessel's oxygen supply could soon start to run out. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • A brother of submarine crew member Diego Wagner walks away after placing a national flag in support of his brother and other crew members of the missing ARA San Juan, on a fence enclosing the Mar del Plata Naval Base, in Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. More help was arriving in a multinational search Thursday for the Argentine submarine with 44 crew members as concern grew that the vessel's oxygen supply could soon start to run out. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • Argentine Navy officials embrace inside the Mar de Plata Naval Base after Argentina's Navy announced that a sound detected during the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion, in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. A Navy spokesman said that the relatives of the crew have been informed and that the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the ARA San Juan. He said there was no sign the explosion might be linked to any attack on the sub. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • Itati Leguizamon, wife of submarine crew member German Suarez, speaks with the media after relatives were told that a sound detected during the search for the ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion, at the Mar de Plata Naval Base, in Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. “They sent a piece of crap to sail,” said Leguizamon. “They inaugurated a submarine with a coat of paint and a flag in 2014, but without any equipment inside. The navy is to blame for its 15 years of abandonment.” (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • Children's drawings depicting the missing ARA San Juan submarine blanket hang on a fence enclosing the Mar de Plata Naval Base, in Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. A Navy spokesman said that the relatives of the crew have been informed that a sound detected during the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion, and that the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the submarine. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • A woman touches a poster, overlaid with snapshots of Celso Oscar Vallejo, one of the crew members of the missing ARA San Juan, that hangs on a fence enclosing the Mar del Plata Naval Base, in Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. More help was arriving in a multinational search Thursday for the Argentine submarine with 44 crew members as concern grew that the vessel's oxygen supply could soon start to run out. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • A woman cries in front of a fence enclosing the Mar de Plata Naval Base after learning that Argentina's navy announced that a sound detected during the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion, in Mar de Plata, Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. A Navy spokesman said that the relatives of the crew have been informed and that the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the ARA San Juan. He said there was no sign the explosion might be linked to any attack on the sub. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix

  • Relatives of missing submarine crew member Celso Oscar Vallejo react new information on the search for the ARA San Juan submarine, at the Mar del Plata Naval Base, Argentina, Thursday. AP PHOTO

  • An Argentine national flag with a drawing of a submarine is tied to a fence enclosing the Mar de Plata Naval Base, in Argentina, Thursday, Nov. 23, 2017. A Navy spokesman said that the relatives of the crew have been informed that a sound detected during the search for the missing ARA San Juan submarine is consistent with that of an explosion, and that the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the submarine. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix) Esteban Felix



Associated Press
Thursday, November 23, 2017

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina — An apparent explosion occurred near the time and place an Argentine submarine went missing, the country’s navy reported Thursday, prompting relatives of its 44 crew members to burst into tears and some to say they had lost hope of a rescue.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said the search will continue until there is full certainty about the fate of the ARA San Juan, despite the evidence of an explosion and with more than a week having passed since the submarine disappeared. It was originally scheduled to arrive Monday at Argentina’s Mar del Plata Navy Base.

The U.S. Navy and an international nuclear test-ban monitoring organization said a “hydro-acoustic anomaly” was produced just hours after the navy lost contact with the sub on Nov. 15.

“According to this report, there was an explosion,” Balbi told reporters. “We don’t know what caused an explosion of these characteristics at this site on this date.”

The navy spokesman described the event as “singular, short, violent and non-nuclear.” It was detected near where the ARA San Juan went missing.

Relatives of the crew who have gathered at the base to receive psychological counseling broke into tears and hugged each other after they received the news. Some fell on their knees or clung to a fence crowded with blue-and-white Argentine flags, rosary beads and messages of support. Most declined to speak, while a few others lashed out in anger at the navy’s response.

“They sent a piece of crap to sail,” said Itati Leguizamon, wife of submarine crew member German Suarez. “They inaugurated a submarine with a coat of paint and a flag in 2014, but without any equipment inside. The navy is to blame for its 15 years of abandonment.”

The German-built diesel-electric TR-1700 class submarine was commissioned in 1985 and was most recently refit in 2014.

During the $12 million retrofitting, the vessel was cut in half and had its engines and batteries replaced. Experts say that refits can be difficult because they involve integrating systems produced by different manufacturers and even the smallest mistake during the cutting phase of the operation can put the safety of the ship and the crew at risk.

The Argentine navy and outside experts have said that even if the ARA San Juan is intact, its crew might have only enough oxygen to be submerged seven to 10 days.

Authorities said late Wednesday that Argentine navy ships as well a U.S. P-8 Poseidon aircraft and a Brazilian air force plane would return to the area to check out the abnormal sound, which originated about 30 miles north of the submarine’s last registered position.

The search location straddles the edge of the continental shelf, with widely varying ocean depths, some as great as 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). Experts say the submarine could not have supported pressures that far down.

“If a submarine goes below its crush-depth, it would implode, it would just collapse,” said James H. Patton Jr. a retired Navy captain. “It would sound like a very, very big explosion to any listening device.”

Whatever it was, U.S. Navy Lt. Lily Hinz said the sound detected “was not a whale, and it is not a regularly occurring sound.”

Claudio Rodriguez, brother of crew member Hernan Rodriguez, said his family suspects “the explosion was so strong that they were not able to rise to the surface or shoot any flares. They didn’t have time for anything.”

“As a family, we’re grateful to all the people who prayed for us and for the families of all the 44,” he said.

The San Juan lost contact as it was sailing from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia. The submarine’s captain had reported a battery failure.

More than a dozen airplanes and ships have been participating in the multinational search despite stormy weather that has caused waves of more than 20 feet (6 meters). Search teams are combing an area of some 185,000 square miles (480,000 square kilometers), which is roughly the size of Spain.

The U.S. government has sent two P-8 Poseidons, a naval research ship, a submarine rescue chamber and sonar-equipped underwater vehicles. U.S. Navy sailors from the San Diego-based Undersea Rescue Command were also helping with the search.

Britain’s Ministry of Defense sent a special airplane with emergency life support pods to join the hunt that includes planes and ships from a dozen nations.

Hopes were buoyed after brief satellite calls were received and when sounds were detected deep in the South Atlantic. But experts later determined that neither was from the missing sub.

“They haven’t come back and they will never come back,” said Jesica Gopar, wife of submarine officer Fernando Santilli, choking back tears. “I had a bad feeling about this and now it has been confirmed.”

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Henao reported from Buenos Aires. AP writer Julie Watson in San Diego and Mayra Pertossi, Debora Rey and Victor Caivano in Buenos Aires and AP video journalist Paul Byrne in Mar del Plata contributed to this report.