A new timeline released by the Argentine Armada detailing the last hours of contact with its missing submarine suggest the ARA San Juan was in trouble well before government requests for international assistance were issued.
The U.S. Navy has sent undersea search and rescue teams and two P-8A Poseidons aircraft to join the international search effort.
About 12:30 a.m. on Nov. 15, San Juan’s captain used a satellite phone to alert his Argentine Navy superiors the sub had taken on salt water through the snorkel – used to replenish air to the submerged sub. The water intrusion short-circuited the batteries in the submarine’s forward compartments, sparking either a fire or smoke, according to an Argentine Navy statement first reported by Argentina’s news station A24.
A CNN English translation of the message A24 broadcast is: “Seawater leaked in through the ventilation system into battery system No. 3, causing a short circuit and the early stages of a fire where the batteries were. The batteries on the external bow are out of service. We are currently submerging with a divided circuit. Nothing new to report regarding personnel. Will keep you informed.”
The captain reported the short circuit batteries were isolated, and San Juan would continue operating submerged using batteries in the rear portion of the ship, according to the Argentine Navy statement. San Juan is a German-built TR-1700 submarine with diesel and battery power. When submerged, the sub only uses battery power.
Nov. 15, 6 a.m. The captain sends a typed message repeating what he said on the satellite phone, per Argentine Navy procedure, according to the Argentine Navy.
7:30 a.m. The Argentine Navy receives the last contact from the sub, a message from the captain saying San Juan was underway, following the same course as planned, according to the Argentine Navy.
10:31 a.m. An undersea explosion was detected in roughly the same area San Juan was believed to be operating at this time, according to the Argentine Navy. A week later, search efforts focus on the area where this explosion was detected, after U.S. and international anti-nuclear proliferation experts determine the explosion was not nuclear and alert Argentine officials about the anomaly. Argentine Navy officials say until alerted by the U.S., they were not aware of the explosion.
Nov. 18 Responding to requests for assistance, the U.S. Navy sends undersea search and rescue teams to assist the growing international search efforts. The Navy search equipment includes four unmanned vehicles to scour underwater for clues to missing sub’s location. The recently established Unmanned Undersea Vehicle Squadron 1, based in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, brought to Argentina one Bluefin-12D (Deep) unmanned undersea vehicle (UUV) and three Iver 580 UUVs. Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft also are sent to assist with the search.