- Sounds detected during search for ARA San Juan came from ‘biological source’
- Search enters critical phase amid concern oxygen running out
Argentina’s navy has said sounds detected from the bottom of the ocean are not from the submarine which has been missing in rough seas for five days with 44 crew on board.
Spokesman Enrique Balbi said “a biological source” was behind the noises which were picked up by two Argentinian navy ships searching for ARA San Juan and by sonar buoys dropped by a US P8 surveillance plane.
The navy has also revealed the submarine’s last communication, on Wednesday, was to report a mechanical breakdown related to its batteries. Captain Gabriel Galeazzi, who runs the naval base in Mar del Plata, which was the submarine’s destination, said mechanical problems were not uncommon and rarely posed a risk.
The announcement regarding the noises dashed hopes raised by a CNN report on Monday that stated the sounds could be crew members banging tools against the hull. “The sounds are not from the submarine and do not correspond to a pattern that could be interpreted as Morse code,” Balbi said.
The five-day search has entered a “critical phase”, the navy said, because the submarine is approaching the probable limit of its oxygen reserves.
Earlier on Monday, Balbi told reporters that although the vessel has enough food and fuel to survive 90 days on the surface, it only had enough oxygen to survive for seven days underwater.
Search continues for #ARASanJuan , waves of up to 10m have hampered progress with conditions easing slightly overnight leading to improved sonar conditions. Aircraft and ships from many nations taking part in this truly multinational air and sea search effort. pic.twitter.com/pNFfOh9S40— HMS_Protector (@protector_hms) November 20, 2017
Balbi also speculated that the submarine could have already been traveling underwater due to the rough conditions on the surface when it last made contact on Wednesday morning.
Balbi confirmed that seven failed satellite phone calls detected by navy listening posts on Saturday morning were not from the submarine.
“None of the communications on Saturday were from the San Juan,” Balbi told reporters. News of the attempted calls were disclosed on Sunday, but they turned out to be from another ship broadcasting on the same frequency employed by the San Juan, Balbi said.
The news came on the morning the submarine had been scheduled to arrive at Mar del Plata naval base on its 10-day journey from Argentina’s southernmost city of Ushuaia.
“This phase is critical,” said Balbi. The submarine “should have arrived in Mar del Plata on Sunday or today Monday if the problem had only been a communications breakdown”.
A large number of international ships and aeroplanes, including a British polar exploration vessel, are braving strong winds and six-metre high waves in the area off the coast of Patagonia where the submarine was lost.
The rough conditions were clearly shown in footage posted online by the Argentinian navy on Monday. “These were the meteorological conditions and the state of the sea yesterday in the search and rescue operations zone,” the navy tweeted.
The US navy has also joined the search, deploying unmanned submersibles and aeroplanes to the South Atlantic.
Two US air force planes landed in the southern coastal city of Comodoro Rivadavia on Sunday carrying a US navy submarine rescue team, including a mini sub, a submersible rescue vehicle and a remote control unmanned submersible equipped with video cameras.
A British Royal Navy Hercules C-130 plane and the HMS Protector ice patrol ship are also participating in the rescue effort.
Mauricio Macri met relatives of the crew at the Mar del Plata naval base on Monday morning. The president said on Twitter that the government was “deploying all possible national and international resources to find [the crewmembers] as soon as possible”.
But the wait is taking its toll on the relatives of the missing submariners. “Every day is leading us closer to a sad ending, regrettably,” Carlos Mendoza, brother of crew member Fernando Ariel Mendoza told the Infobae website. “It’s sad, but we have to be realistic.”
Karina Vargas, the wife of crew member Cayetano Vargas, told the local newspaper San Juan 8 that she had seen her husband in a dream after the submarine had left Ushuaia.
“I’ve never had a bad feeling before, but this time I saw him arriving at home before time. He said hello and I made joke about asking him to look after the boys so I could go out.”
Other family members have used social media to ask for support during the search.
“Pray so that my husband Fernando Santilli can return home,” Jesica Gopar said on Twitter. “He’s on the San Juan submarine.”
In another message, she tweeted a picture of her missing husband, with the message: “Your son and I are waiting for you. I love you.”