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Defence

Plane searching for missing submarine detects heat from object on deep sea floor, reports claim

Hunt for Argentine sub reaches desperate stage, with oxygen at critically low levels - even if crew is alive

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 2:57pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 November, 2017, 2:57pm

A US navy plane searching for a missing Argentinian submarine on Tuesday detected an object on the ocean floor, local media reported.

The plane’s radar had discovered an area of heat around 800 metres below the surface of the southern Atlantic, leading rescuers to believe it could be the missing ARA San Juan, the radio station Mitre and the newspaper Clarin reported.

A mini submarine had been sent to the spot, 300km east of the Patagonian harbour Puerto Madryn, to identify the object, they reported. Argentina’s Ministry of Defence refused to confirm the report.

The German-made submarine, with 44 crew members on board, went missing six days ago. It has a seven-day supply of oxygen.

The regional hospital in the city of Comodoro Rivadavia has been ordered to prepare for possible casualties, with all operations cancelled and four theatres freed up.

The search operation, which has 13 planes and 17 boats at its disposal, is now at a “critical phase,” according to the Argentinian navy.

“Our concerns about the oxygen reserves on board are growing,” navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said late Tuesday.

The search is the largest manoeuvre in the southern Atlantic since the Falklands War of 1982.

Hopes had been raised and dashed earlier after the sighting of a lifeboat and flares proved to be false alarms, as did a noise detected coming from the ocean.

Family members of the crew who are gathered at the Mar del Plata naval base are increasingly distressed, navy psychologist Victor Hugo Duga said Tuesday. “The state of mind is very low,” he said.

He said the successive hopes of signs of life and the consequent disappointments had caused “very serious moments.”

Maria Morales, the mother of one of the crew members, said she preferred to be at the naval base to being at home. “Sometimes when we leave from here we get depressed, but at the base we are together and support each other,” she told the Argentinian broadcaster TN.

Jorge Villarreal, father of another crew member, was more optimistic than most. “My faith is intact, my optimism remains the same. I will not leave from here until they return,” he said.

In its last contact with its naval base last Wednesday, the submarine had given word of a battery glitch, Captain Gabriel Galeazzi, another navy spokesman, said.

The crew was then ordered to take the shortest route to its home port of Mar del Plata, 400km south of Buenos Aires, Galeazzi said.

The navy has avoided associating the mechanical problem with the disappearance of the vessel and said it had sufficient backup machinery.

According to the Argentinian Defense Ministry, 10 countries have offered assistance.