The wreck of an Argentine submarine that went missing a year ago in the Atlantic along with 44 crew members has been located, the country’s navy announced on Saturday, even as the defense ministry warned it might not be possible to resurface the vessel.
The ARA San Juan, which disappeared on November 15, 2017, off the coast of Argentina, was discovered at a depth of more than 800 meters, the navy tweeted, confirming the vessel had imploded.
It was found by US search firm Ocean Infinity on Friday, a day after the first anniversary of its disappearance.
President Mauricio Macri’s government had declared two weeks after the sub went missing that there could be no survivors, but news that the San Juan had been found still hit relatives of the dead sailors hard.
“We are all destroyed here,” said Yolanda Mendiola, mother of crewman Leandro Cisneros.
Argentine President Mauricio Macri speaks during a ceremony on the one-year anniversary of the ARA San Juan tragedy in Mar del Plata, Argentina
“I still had hopes that they could be alive,” Luis Niz, father of a missing sailor, told reporters.
Experts believe that Argentina’s worst naval disaster in decades was triggered after water seeped inside the vessel through a defective snorkel valve.
The San Juan, one of the country’s three submarines, was traveling northward from Ushuaia when the navy lost contact with it.
Near the wreck, pieces that were 11, 13 and 30 meters long were spotted in a “moon-like zone with craters and canyons,” according to navy Captain Enrique Balbi, who said the hull had been “crushed inwards.”
Admiral Jose Villan, the navy’s top commander, added that the rough terrain on the ocean floor had made it difficult for search vessels to find the sub.
At a news conference on Saturday, Defense Minister Oscar Aguad could neither confirm nor deny if the vessel could be recovered, but said the government did “not have the means to extract the submarine.”
The Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan before leaving the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina
Experts say raising the ARA San Juan submarine would be an enormous undertaking costing a billion dollars or more.
The discovery of the wreck came one day after Macri attended a somber ceremony commemorating the tragedy at the San Juan’s Mar del Plata base. Macri said the “whole truth” about what happened can now be examined.
Argentina quickly attracted criticism over its handling of the tragedy last year.
It took naval officials days to acknowledge that the old, German-built submarine had reported a problem with its batteries in its final communication, and 10 days to say there had been an explosion on board.
An air and sea search involving 13 countries followed. In all, Argentina has spent more than 25 million US dollars in its search operation.
Ocean Infinity — a US company that can search and map the seabed and was also tasked with hunting for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 — was hired by Argentina after the international operation failed to find the vessel.
“Our thoughts are with the many families affected by this terrible tragedy. We sincerely hope that locating the resting place of the ARA San Juan will be of some comfort to them,” the company said in a statement.