An ominous explosion was detected just hours after an Argentine submarine carrying 44 crew members dissapeared without a trace last week, authorities have confirmed.
The disappearance of ARA San Juan last Wednesday has been shrouded in mystery but Argentine Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi shared one of the most specific and ill-boding details yet during a press conference Thursday.
“There was an explosion,” Balbi told reporters at the Mar del Plata Navy Base, describing the blast as “an anomalous event that was singular, short, violent.”
U.S. agencies involved in the rescue mission confirmed that the “hydro-acoustic anomaly” occurred a few hours after the Argentine navy lost all contact with the submarine, which was supposed to arrive at the base on Monday.
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Family members of the missing crew members, who had gathered at the base for psychological counseling, burst into tears after Balbi delivered the potentially devastating news. Some lashed out in anger and feared for their relatives, who had complained about a battery problem before losing contact.
“They sent a piece of crap to sail,” said Itati Leguizamon, the wife of crew member German Suarez.
Balbi stressed that the search will continue until there is full certainty about what happened.
The German-built submarine was commissioned in 1985 and received a $ 12 million retrofitting in 2014. Experts say that such repairs can be highly complex as they involve the integration of systems produced by several different manufacturers and even the smallest mishaps can put crew members at risk.
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Earlier Thursday, officials said a U.S. plane had found an unidentified object in the water where the submarine went missing.
Aircraft have joined ships from an international collection of navies from Argentina, Brazil, the U.S. and European countries looking to discover what happened to the vessel, which if unable to surface likely only has enough oxygen for seven to 10 days.
Unmanned underwater vehicles are also being used to create images of the ocean floor, where it is believed the San Juan may be stuck.
James Patton, Jr., a retired U.S. Navy captain, feared that the explosion could be a sign that the submarine sunk into the South Atlantic, where depths can be as great as 10,000 feet.
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“If a submarine goes below its crush-depth, it would implode, it would just collapse,” Patton said. “It would sound like a very, very big explosion to any listening device.”
Jesica Gopar, the wife of submarine officer Fernando Santilli, feared the worst after Thursday’s press conference.
“They haven’t come back and they will never come back,” she said, holding back tears. “I had a bad feeling about this and now it has been confirmed.”
With News Wire Services
With CHRISTOPHER BRENNAN
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