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Argentina: Sounds heard in sub search might be of explosion

November 23, 2017

The Argentine navy said the missing ARA San Juan submarine may have suffered an explosion about the same time it sent its last signal. There are growing concerns for the 44 crew members.

ARA San Juan submarine
Image: picture alliance/Armada Argentina/telam/dpa/J. S. Lobos

Speaking on the eighth day of an international search operation, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters on Thursday that noises were heard near the San Juan's last known position.

"An anomalous, singular, short, violent and non-nuclear event consistent with an explosion" occurred shortly after the last communication with the San Juan and its 44 crew members last week.

The submarine had only a seven-day supply of oxygen.

Asked during an evening news conference about the fate of the 44 sailors, Balbi said the situation was "critical".

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Balbi said there was no sign that the supposed explosion was the result of an attack.

He added that relatives of the crew members had been informed of the latest developments, but stressed that the search would continue until the fate of every San Juan crew member was known. 

Earlier on Thursday, Balbi said that teams looking for the missing Argentine submarine would return to a previously searched area in the South Atlantic after officials indicated that the week-old noise could provide a clue to the vessel's location. Balbi then described the noise as a "hydro-acoustic anomaly," which was detected in the ocean around three hours after the navy's last communication with the submarine on November 15.

The unusual noise was located 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of the ARA San Juan's last known position.

Information about the noise had only been made available now, Balbi said, after the United States had alerted Argentina and data from agencies reporting on the "hydro-acoustic" phenomenon had been reviewed.

Hope dwindling for missing sailors

More than a week has gone by since the ARA San Juan went missing as it was sailing from the southern port of Ushuaia to the city of Mar del Plata, located around 400 kilometers (250 miles) south of Buenos Aires.

The Argentine navy and experts are concerned that oxygen for the 44-person crew would only last between seven and 10 days if the sub was submerged.

Over a dozen airplanes and ships are taking part in the multinational search, which has been hampered by stormy weather and rocky waves that have swelled to more than 6 meters (20 feet).

Last week, the 34-year-old German-built submarine had flagged a breakdown and said it was diverting to a navy base at Mar del Plata, where many of the crew members live.

The case has gripped the nation, with the crew's relatives enduring days of false hopes as previous reported sounds and spotted life rafts turned out not to be from the missing submarine.

"The hours go by. We're hoping for a miracle. I don't want to bury my brother, I want him with me. I feel he'll come back, but I am aware of time passing," said Elena Alfaro, whose brother is aboard the missing vessel.

route of the submarine

jm, rs/se (AP, AFP)