Argentine navy loses contact with submarine ARA San Juan

Missing submarine's chance of being found with crew still alive 'fading by hour'

A specialized USA aircraft had been sent to the area, about 225 miles east of the Valdes Peninsula in Patagonia, after the noise was detected by two Argentine naval vessels searching for the submarine.

Argentina's navy says its ARA San Juan submarine, which has been missing since Wednesday, reported a mechanical breakdown in its last communication.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports that the sound, detected by Argentine ships about 220 miles from the coast of Patagonia at a depth of about 650 feet, was first thought possibly to be made by crew members hammering on the sub's hull to attract attention.

On Monday, Argentina's navy said that the noises which they hoped were coming from tools being banged against the hull of a submarine in Morse code signals have been analyzed.

Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters that the "noise" was analysed and experts determined it was likely "biological".

Stormy weather, with 26-foot waves in the frequently stormy South Atlantic Ocean, were hampering search efforts.

The German-built vessel is only created to remain submerged for seven days, with oxygen supplies running out beyond that time frame. With each passing minute, the odds of survival become more dim for this Argentine crew, so hopes are high that these extremely skilled California crews can help to find the missing submarine and then commence rescue operations.

The US Navy ordered its Undersea Rescue Command based in San Diego, California, to deploy to Argentina to support the search for the submarine.

Pledges of help also came from Chile, Uruguay, Peru, Brazil and Britain, the latter sending a polar exploration vessel, HMS Protector.

There was hope that the crew was making the constant sound to draw the attention of potential rescuers.

The issue has since been confirmed by the Argentine navy to have been a battery failure, delivering another blow to families of crew members desperately waiting for news of loved ones.

Adm. Gabriel Gonzalez of the Mar del Plata Naval Base said Monday that the submarine had sent an alert Wednesday about an unspecified breakdown.

The ARA San Juan was returning from a routine mission to Ushuaia, near the southern-most tip of South America, towards Mar del Plata.

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