The desperate search for the ARA San Juan
The Argentine Navy submarine ARA San Juan (S-21) is currently missing inside a 482,507 sq.km area to the east of Argentina, north of the Falklands, while on a scheduled trip from the naval base at Ushuaia in Argentina’s extreme south to Mar del Plata. Her closest point to land is estimated to be about 200 miles offshore in 500-700m of the coldest and most inhospitable waters on earth.
The search area is being scoured by ships and aircraft from her home country (to include vintage but still effective S-2 Trackers), as well as Chile, Peru, South Africa, Brazil, the Royal Navy (a C-130 out of Port Stanley and the ice patrol ship HMS Protector), and the U.S.– the later of which has provided at least two Navy P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft, a number of UUVs, and a NASA P-3B research aircraft which still has its MAD sensor equipment.
The RN’s Submarine Parachute Assistance Group, NATO’s submarine rescue unit as well as two assets from the U.S. are staging to effect an emergency rescue is needed:
Three U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and one U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft will transport the first rescue system, the Submarine Rescue Chamber (SRC) and underwater intervention Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) from Miramar to Comodoro Rivadavia, Argentina. The four aircraft are scheduled to depart Miramar Nov. 18 and arrive in Argentina Nov. 19.
The second rescue system, the Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM) and supporting equipment will be transported via additional flights and is scheduled to arrive in Argentina early next week.
The SRC is a McCann rescue chamber designed during World War II and still used today. SRC can rescue 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 mating, with a submarine settled on the ocean floor up to 45-degree angle in both pitch and roll. The PRM can rescue up to 16 personnel at a time. Both assets are operated by two crewmembers and mate with the submarine by sealing over the submarine’s hatch allowing Sailors to safely transfer to the rescue chamber.
Waves 4,5 meters in height and winds of 90 km are hampering the search.
While some attempted satellite communications attempts may have been made by the San Juan on Saturday, there has been no contact with the vessel since Thursday.
The San Juan, a West German-built Thyssen Nordseewerke TR-1700 type diesel-electric sub (a design used only by Argentina) was commissioned in 1985 and was most recently refit in 2014. The two completed TR-1700s were basically stretched Type 209 SSKs designed in the 1970s and, while four were to be constructed– half in Germany/ half in Argentina– just the pair of European subs were completed.
As the San Juan was built to NATO-specs, the dive rescue chambers being rushed to the area should prove compatible if she is located in time and the pressure hull is intact.
Organized first with students who were trained in the U.S. in 1917, the Escuela de Submarinos received their first three submarines– Italian Tosi-built boats– in the 1930s. Since then the force has operated four Balao-class fleet boats and two Type 209 submarines, with one of each of the latter types, saw service in the Falklands conflict.
At least 44 servicemen on board the missing submarine. Among the crew is South America’s first female submarine officer, Eliana María Krawczyk, who joined the Armada in 2009 and was accepted into the Escuela de Submarinos in 2012.
Please keep them all in your thoughts and prayers.