Crew on missing Argentinian submarine may be running out of oxygen
Search enters ‘critical phase’ as dozens of boats and planes search for 44 people
The ARA San Juan submarine, which disappeared some 430km off Argentina’s coast with a crew of 44 on board. Photograph: Argentina Navy/EPA
Elena Alfaro (right), sister of missing submarine crew memeber Cristian David Ibanez, being comforted outside Argentina’s navy base in Mar del Plata, south of Buenos Aires. Photograph: Eitan Abramovich/AFP/Getty Images
The search for an Argentinian navy submarine missing in the South Atlantic for one week reached a “critical phase” on Wednesday as the 44 crew on board could be running low on oxygen, a navy spokesman said.
Dozens of planes and boats were searching for the ARA San Juan. Favourable weather meant boats could cover a greater area after being hampered by strong winds and high waves for much of the past few days, although poor weather was expected to return on Thursday, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said.
If the German-built submarine had sunk or was otherwise unable to rise to the surface since it gave its last location on November 15th, it would be using up the last of its seven-day oxygen supply.
“We are in the critical phase . . . particularly with respect to oxygen,” Mr Balbi told reporters. “There has been no contact with anything that could be the San Juan submarine.”
About 30 boats and planes and 4,000 people from Argentina, the United States, Britain, Chile and Brazil have joined the search for the submarine, which last transmitted its location about 480km from the coast.
Planes have covered some 500,000sq km of the ocean surface, but much of the area has not yet been scoured by the boats.
Several possible signals, including sounds and flares, that have been detected have turned out to be false alarms. Overnight, a British ship reported observing three orange and white flares, but they did not come from the vessel, Mr Balbi said.
The submarine was launched in 1983 and underwent maintenance in 2008 in Argentina. It was en route from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, to the coastal city of Mar del Plata, 400km south of Buenos Aires, when it reported an electrical malfunction shortly before disappearing last week.
Relatives of the crew members have been gathered at a naval base in Mar del Plata, where the search is being co-ordinated.
“We came today because we had hope that they had returned,” Elena Alfaro, the sister of crew member and radar expert Cristian Ibanez, told Reuters, in tears. “It is incomprehensible that so much time has passed. We are in pain.” – Reuters