Mystery of lost Argentine sub ends deep under the sea
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.