Missing Argentine Sub Supposedly Tried To Make Contact Seven Times On Saturday (Updated)

A day after we first reported on Argentina’s missing submarine, the ARA San Juan, officials from the Argentine Navy have stated that the vanished vessel had tried to make contact with Argentine naval bases on no less than seven separate occasions on Saturday. The calls, which were made via satellite, came between 10:52am and 3:42pm and lasted from as short as four seconds to as long as 36 seconds. A connection was never made but communications companies from the U.S. are working to try to geolocate the position from where the calls were made.

Learn about the ARA San Juan and what it was doing when it went missing by reading our previous post linked here.

This revelation comes as a much needed glimmer of hope in what has become an increasingly dire international rescue effort. No contact with the 30 year old diesel electric submarine has been made for over three days and fears have been growing that the vessel sunk while operating below the surface. Though the attempted contacted is seemingly a good sign, there is always a chance that it could be an anomaly or it could have possibly come from a different vessel.

Argentine Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi stated that the service was not discounting any possibilities as to what happened to the submarine, and stated:

“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… From movement after going adrift, we can estimate the search area.”

In the meantime, just as we expected, the search effort has ballooned into a full-on international affair with the U.S. sending P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft and the Navy’s Underwater Rescue Capabilities (URC) unit to Argentina to work alongside a NASA P-3B that is already taking part in the effort. The Navy detailed their undersea rescue deployment plans in a statement, stating in part:

“URC is deploying two independent rescue assets based on a number of factors, including the varying depth of ocean waters near South America’s southeastern coast and the differing safe operating depths of the two rescue systems.

Three U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and one U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft will transport the first rescue system, the Submarine Rescue Chamber (SRC) and underwater intervention Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from Miramar to Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. The four aircraft are scheduled to depart Miramar Nov. 18 and arrive in Argentina Nov. 19.

The second rescue system, the Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM) and supporting equipment will be transported via additional flights and is scheduled to arrive in Argentina early next week.

The SRC is a McCann rescue chamber designed during World War II and still used today. SRC can rescue up to six persons at a time and reach a bottomed submarine at depths of 850 feet. The PRM can submerge up to 2,000 feet for docking and mating, with a submarine settled on the ocean floor up to 45-degree angle in both pitch and roll. The PRM can rescue up to 16 personnel at a time. Both assets are operated by two crewmembers and mate with the submarine by sealing over the submarine’s hatch allowing Sailors to safely transfer to the rescue chamber.

The URC Sailors deploying with the rescue systems are highly trained on its use and routinely exercise employing the advanced technology in submarine rescue scenarios.”

A growing armada of aircraft and surface vessels are taking part in the search and rescue effort, many of which come from other countries that were looking to help. Chile, Uruguay, Peru and Brazil are providing assets for the cause, and the UK, Argentina’s old foe, was one of the first countries that offered to join the hunt for the San Juan and her 44 sailors, with the country’s polar exploration vessel HMS Protector slated to arrive on the scene within hours. But even with a growing list of assets available, bad weather in some of the areas where the search is being focused has hampered the overall effort. 

The HMS Protector will bring a wide range of capabilities to the search effort. , Royal Navy/Crown Copywright

One of the main search areas seems to be about 150 miles east of the San Juan’s home port of Mar del Plata, in an area where the Atlantic Shelf begins to drop off. If the submarine had traveled east of the shelf and sunk, the depth could complicate both search and rescue efforts, and frankly, it could be catastrophic for the submarine’s hull. Hopefully this isn’t the case and the supposed satellite contact attempts are a good sign that the vessel is surfaced—that is if those transmissions really came from the San Juan.

UPDATE 12:45pm PST:

There isn’t a lot of new information to share today. As you can see below, the search area is absolutely huge. There is also growing talk that the search effort, even four days after the submarine went missing, is largely uncoordinated. This may be changing now that an official search area has been designated, at least one would hope so. 

The HMS Protector has arrived on the scene. 

Stormy weather and high seas continue to hamper the search effort according to a Reuters report:

“U.S. airplanes carrying subsurface search specialists arrived in Argentina to help hunt for the ARA San Juan, which was 432 km (268 miles) off Argentina’s coast when its location was last known early on Wednesday, said navy Admiral Gabriel Gonzalez.

Authorities have mainly been scanning the sea from above as waves of up to 8 meters (26 feet) and winds of up to 40 knots made the search difficult for boats, Gonzalez told reporters.

“Unfortunately these conditions are expected to remain for the next 48 hours,” Gonzalez said from the Mar del Plata naval base, about 420 km (240 miles) south of Buenos Aires where the submarine had been heading toward before vanishing.”

High seas make finding the submarine especially difficult as it has a very small profile while surfaced and is basically painted to blend in with the sea. Riding out such a storm in that size of submarine while surfaced would be a very uncomfortable, if not dangerous encounter according to one submariner we talked to. 

We will keep this page updated throughout the day with more info as it becomes available. 

Contact the author: Tyler@thedrive.com