Mys­tery of lost Ar­gen­tine sub ends deep un­der the sea

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - News - BY DANIEL POLITI

An Ar­gen­tine mil­i­tary sub­ma­rine has been found deep in the At­lantic Ocean al­most a year to the day af­ter it dis­ap­peared with 44 crew mem­bers aboard, the Ar­gen­tine navy said Sat­ur­day, re­solv­ing a mys­tery over its fate that had trans­fixed the na­tion.

The sub­ma­rine, the San Juan, was lo­cated about 2,600 feet be­low the ocean’s sur­face by a pri­vate com­pany the gov­ern­ment hired af­ter an in­ter­na­tional search failed to find it. It was dis­cov­ered about 250 nau­ti­cal miles from the port of Co­modoro Ri­va­davia in Chubut prov­ince.

“I have mixed feel­ings,” Os­car Aguad, the Ar­gen­tine de­fense min­is­ter, said at a news con­fer­ence Sat­ur­day where of­fi­cials showed grainy pho­to­graphs of the wreck­age. “On one hand, there is re­lief over find­ing the sub­ma­rine. On the other, it is a tragedy.”

Naval of­fi­cials said at the same news con­fer­ence that it was too early to say whether the sub­ma­rine could be re­cov­ered, adding that Ar­gentina’s navy does not have the means to re­cover it.

The San Juan dis­ap­peared Nov. 15, 2017. It was found by Ocean In­fin­ity, a Hous­ton-based com­pany known for its work try­ing to lo­cate miss­ing Malaysia Air­lines Flight 370, which dis­ap­peared over the In­dian Ocean in 2014. The com­pany used un­manned, robotic de­vices to find it.

Ar­gentina’s gov­ern­ment signed a con­tract with the com­pany in Au­gust that guar­an­teed it $7.5 mil­lion if it found the sub­ma­rine. The con­tract was signed af­ter many of the crew mem­bers’ rel­a­tives ac­cused the gov­ern­ment of aban­don­ing the search. Dozens of them set up a makeshift camp out­side the pres­i­den­tial palace in Buenos Aires for 52 days, de­mand­ing that a pri­vate com­pany be hired to look for the sub­ma­rine.

“The im­por­tant thing is that it was found,” Jorge Vil­lar­real, the fa­ther of crew mem­ber Fer­nando Vil­lar­real, told the Todo Noti­cias news chan­nel on Sat­ur­day. “Now we know where it is and we can mourn in the best way.”

The first word of the dis­cov­ery came in a tweet from the Ar­gen­tine navy and the De­fense Min­istry. “There has been a pos­i­tive iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the #AraSanJuan,” it said.

The dis­cov­ery “closes one chap­ter and opens an­other,” said a navy spokesman, Rodolfo Ra­mallo. “Based on the state of the sub­ma­rine, we will have to de­ter­mine what hap­pened,” he added.

Of­fi­cials said they will re­lease a re­port next week with more tech­ni­cal de­tails about the fate of the sub­ma­rine and those aboard.

The sub­ma­rine dis­ap­peared dur­ing a rou­tine trip from Ushuaia in the Patag­o­nia re­gion to Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires prov­ince. Eight days later – in the midst of re­cov­ery op­er­a­tions that cov­ered 186,000 square miles – the navy said an ex­plo­sion had been recorded near the sub­ma­rine’s last known lo­ca­tion hours af­ter its fi­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the mil­i­tary.

The ex­plo­sion came to light only af­ter an­a­lysts from the U.S. gov­ern­ment and an in­ter­na­tional nu­clear weapons mon­i­tor de­tected it and no­ti­fied Ar­gentina. Ves­sels from Brazil, Bri­tain, Chile, Rus­sia and the United States, among oth­ers, combed the seas as part of the search.

The loss of the San Juan led to a shake-up in the navy, in­clud­ing the dis­missal of its top com­man­der, Adm. Marcelo Ed­uardo Srur. Aguad has re­mained in the de­fense min­is­ter post. The sub­ma­rine’s dis­ap­pear­ance is be­ing in­ves­ti­gated both by the courts and by the Ar­gen­tine Na­tional Con­gress.

Ocean In­fin­ity be­gan its search Sept. 7 us­ing a Nor­we­gian-flagged ves­sel, the Seabed Con­struc­tor. Three naval of­fi­cers and four rel­a­tives of crew mem­bers ac­com­pa­nied Ocean In­fin­ity per­son­nel aboard the ship.

The search in­volved “tech­nol­ogy never be­fore used dur­ing the lo­cal­iza­tion of a sub­ma­rine,” the navy said at the time.

Ocean In­fin­ity said Sat­ur­day that the wreck­age of the San Juan was found in a ravine dur­ing a search by five au­tonomous un­der­wa­ter ve­hi­cles, which are un­manned, robotic de­vices equipped with sonar and high-def­i­ni­tion cam­eras that are not teth­ered to a ship.

Os­car Aguad

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