Argentine officials cannot confirm whether satellite signals came from missing submarine

Adm. Gabriel Gonzalez, chief of Argentina's Mar del Plata naval base, talks to the media on Nov. 19, 2017.
Adm. Gabriel Gonzalez, chief of Argentina’s Mar del Plata naval base, talks to the media on Nov. 19, 2017.
(Marina Devo / Associated Press)
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Argentina’s navy said Sunday that there was no clear evidence that satellite communications initially believed to have come from a submarine with 44 crew members missing in the Atlantic were from the vessel.

Officials said they were analyzing whether seven brief satellite calls the Defense Ministry reported were received the day before were from the San Juan, a diesel-powered sub missing since Wednesday in icy waters off Argentina’s southern coast.


Thirteen ships and seven aircraft from seven countries continued the search in stormy conditions Sunday. A headquarters for search operations has been established at Comodoro Rivadavia, a city in Patagonia on Argentina’s Atlantic coast about 900 miles south of Buenos Aires, the capital, said Adm. Gabriel Gonzalez, chief of the Mar de Plata naval base.

The U.S. Navy’s Southern Command announced Sunday that it was deploying special undersea rescue assets to aid in the search-and-rescue operation. Those assets consist of a manned Submarine Rescue Chamber, or SRC, and a robotic underwater intervention system known as PRM.

In a statement, the Southern Command said the SRC can accommodate 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 can rescue up to 16 people at a time.

The U.S. Navy also said it was dispatching a second P-8A search aircraft to Argentina to assist in the operation, where it will join an P-8A already there as well as a P-3 research aircraft lent by NASA. The aircraft are outfitted with instruments that detect anomalies above and below the ocean surface.

Also, the British navy vessel Protector began a voyage Sunday to retrace the path that the San Juan was to have followed from Ushuaia, where it departed Monday, to the Mar de Plata naval base, its expected destination Sunday.

The Argentine navy has three contingency plans for a possible rescue of the sub, depending on the weather and sea conditions, according to local news reports. One includes a midsize rescue submarine, two diving bells and an underwater crane.


Relatives continued to arrive at the Mar de Plata naval base to join in the vigil for the crew members. Among them was Ester Alfaro, mother of crew member Cristian Ibanez. She told a TV interviewer that she spoke to her son minutes before the submarine left Ushuaia on Monday.

“God grant that they are found. I’ve come here because I wanted to know more, to get the latest news,” she said.

Special correspondents D’Alessandro reported from Buenos Aires and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia, respectively.