Stormy weather complicates search for missing Argentine submarine

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina/BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - A storm on Sunday complicated the search for an Argentine navy submarine missing in the South Atlantic, as authorities worked to verify that recent satellite calls, which raised hopes of finding the 44 crew members alive, came from the vessel.

U.S. airplanes carrying subsurface search specialists arrived in Argentina to help hunt for the ARA San Juan, which was 432 km (268 miles) off Argentina's coast when its location was last known early on Wednesday, said navy Admiral Gabriel Gonzalez.

More than a dozen boats and aircraft from Argentina, the United States, Britain, Chile and Brazil had joined the effort.

RELATED: Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan

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Missing Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan
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Missing Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan
The Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan and crew are seen leaving the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
A crew member of the Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan stands on the vessel at the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
The Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan and crew are seen leaving the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Photo released on November 17, 2017 by Telam showing the A.R.A. San Juan submarine being delivered to the Argentine Navy after being repaired at the Argentine Naval Industrial Complex (CINAR) in Buenos Aires, on May 23, 2014. The Argentine submarine is missing in Argentine waters after it lost communication more than 48 hours ago. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORTIZ / Argentina OUT (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORTIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A crew member of the Argentine military submarine ARA San Juan stands on the vessel at the port of Buenos Aires, Argentina June 2, 2014. Picture taken on June 2, 2014. Armada Argentina/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Ships are seen at an Argentine Naval Base, where the missing-at-sea ARA San Juan submarine sailed from, in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 18, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Picture released by TELAM showing Mar� Morales (L) mother of submarinist Luis Garcia, accompnied by an unidentified man at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 18, 2017. Argentina's navy is hunting for one of its submarines which has been reported missing in the South Atlantic with a crew of 44 on board. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / Alejandro MORITZ / Argentina OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORITZ' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORITZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Picture released by TELAM showing unidentified people gathering at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 17, 2017. Argentina's navy is hunting for one of its submarines which has been reported missing in the South Atlantic with a crew of 44 on board. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / Alejandro MORITZ / Argentina OUT / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORITZ' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORITZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Photo released on November 17, 2017 by Telam showing the A.R.A. San Juan submarine being delivered to the Argentine Navy after being repaired at the Argentine Naval Industrial Complex (CINAR) in Buenos Aires, on May 23, 2014. The Argentine submarine is missing in Argentine waters after it lost communication more than 48 hours ago. / AFP PHOTO / TELAM / ALEJANDRO MORTIZ / Argentina OUT (Photo credit should read ALEJANDRO MORTIZ/AFP/Getty Images)
A man reacts outside the Argentine Naval Base, where the missing at sea ARA San Juan submarine sailed from, in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A heart formed with stripes with the colours of Argentina's national flag hangs from a fence outside the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Navy crew work aboard the ARA Sarandi destroyer before leaving to take part in the search for the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
A woman walks past an Argentine national flag hanging from a fence outside the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. Words on the flag read "We are with you". REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Navy crew work aboard the ARA Sarandi destroyer before leaving to take part in the search for the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
The ARA Sarandi destroyer is seen before leaving to take part in the search for the ARA San Juan submarine missing at sea at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Argentine Navy captain Gabriel Galeazzi looks on after a news conference at the Argentine Naval Base in Mar del Plata, Argentina November 21, 2017. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci
Malvina Vallejos, sister of missing submariner Celso Oscar Vallejos hangs a supportive message for the 44 crew members of Argentine missing submarine outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
Malvina Vallejos, sister of missing submariner Celso Oscar Vallejos speaks outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
People pray at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017, after being refueled to take part in the search of missing submarine ARA San Juan A man . An Argentine submarine has been lost in the South Atlantic for five days now with 44 people aboard. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
A man prays at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017, after being refueled to take part in the search of missing submarine ARA San Juan A man . An Argentine submarine has been lost in the South Atlantic for five days now with 44 people aboard. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
People pray at the entrance of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for the missing Argentine ARA San Juan submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
A man waits in front outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. Argentina's navy revealed Monday that a submarine missing for five days reported a mechanical breakdown in its final communication, and that weekend signals did not come from the vessel, dimming hopes for its 44 crew members. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
An Argentinian flag painted with a submarine is dislpayed as supportive message for the 44 crew members of Argentine missing submarine outside Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. Argentina's navy revealed Monday that a submarine missing for five days reported a mechanical breakdown in its final communication, and that weekend signals did not come from the vessel, dimming hopes for its 44 crew members. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
Argentina's Navy destroyer ARA Sarandi sails off to take part in the search of missing submarine ARA San Juan, from the north breakwater of Argentina's Navy base in Mar del Plata, on the Atlantic coast south of Buenos Aires, on November 21, 2017. An international search mission for a missing Argentine submarine entered its sixth day Tuesday as uncertainty over the fate of its 44 crew members gave way to rising anguish for families troubled by earlier false hopes. / AFP PHOTO / EITAN ABRAMOVICH (Photo credit should read EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP/Getty Images)
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Authorities have been scanning the sea from above as waves of up to 8 meters (26 ft) and winds of up to 40 knots made the search difficult for boats, Gonzalez told reporters.

"Unfortunately these conditions are expected to remain for the next 48 hours," Gonzalez said from the Mar del Plata naval base, where the submarine had been heading toward before vanishing.

The defense ministry has said the submarine appeared to have tried to make contact through seven failed satellite calls on Saturday between late morning and early afternoon. On Sunday afternoon, Gonzalez said it was still not clear whether the calls were sent by or to the vessel.

"We are continuing to investigate, ... trying to determine with confidence that they came from the submarine, and were not calls to the submarine," Gonzalez said.

The government was working with Iridium Communications Inc <IRDM.O> to trace the location of the calls. The U.S.-based company did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside of normal business hours.

A search of 80 percent of the area initially targeted for the operation turned up no sign of the submarine on the ocean's surface, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said, but the crew should have ample supplies of food and oxygen.

The navy said an electrical outage on the diesel-electric-propelled vessel might have downed its communications. Protocol calls for submarines to surface if communication is lost.

Crew members' relatives gathered at the Mar del Plata naval base, where the submarine had once been expected to arrive around noon on Sunday from Ushuaia. However, it would not be unusual for storms to cause delays, Balbi said.

Argentine-born Pope Francis mentioned the missing vessel in his Sunday noon prayer.

"I also pray for the men of the crew of the Argentine military submarine which is missing," the pontiff said.

The dramatic search has captivated the nation of 44 million, which recently mourned the loss of five citizens killed when a truck driver plowed through a bicycle path in New York City.

The ARA San Juan was inaugurated in 1983, making it the newest of the three submarines in the navy's fleet. Built in Germany by Nordseewerke, it underwent midlife maintenance in 2008 in Argentina.

 

(Additional reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi in Buenos Aires, Mitra Taj in Santiago, Keith Coffman in Washington, D.C. and Philip Pullela in Rome; Editing by Mark Potter and Lisa Von Ahn)

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