AP NEWS

Houston-based company locates missing Argentine submarine

November 20, 2018

A Houston-based company confirmed that Saturday it found an Argentine submarine after the ship disappeared almost a year ago with 44 crew members on board.

Ocean Infinity, a seabed exploration company, announced that it found the wreckage of the ARA San Juan submarine in a deep ocean ravine about 700 miles east of Argentina in the Atlantic Ocean after two months of searching. The ravine was more than 3,000 feet below the surface, the company said.

“Our thoughts are with the many families affected by this terrible tragedy,” said Oliver Plunkett, Ocean Infinity’s CEO. “We sincerely hope that locating the resting place of the ARA San Juan will be of some comfort to them at what must be a profoundly difficult time. Furthermore, we hope our work will lead to their questions being answered and lessons learned which help to prevent anything similar from happening again.”

The San Juan was on a routine mission from Ushuaia in the Patagonia region to Mar del Plata in Buenos Aires province when it lost contact with the military on Nov. 15, 2017. The Argentine navy later announced that an explosion had been recorded near the submarine’s last known location.

Plunkett said that the submarine was found broken into pieces, which supports the Argentine navy’s core hypothesis that an explosion or implosion occurred. He added that locating the wreckage was made all the more difficult because submarines are designed not to be detected by sonar technology.

“For me, it’s when you remember this is designed not to be detected by sonar, you realize actually the magnitude of what we achieved,” Plunkett said.

Ocean Infinity’s mission was entirely non-invasive, meaning that they were strictly contracted by the Argentinian government to locate the submarine, not perform any recovery efforts.

Argentina’s government hired Ocean Infinity in August to search for the submarine for up to 60 days, with a promised $7.5 million payout if the submarine was found. The company had previously been contracted to find Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared over the Indian Ocean in 2014.

Ocean Infinity began its search on Sept. 7, using five Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) to carry out the search, which was conducted by a team of about 60 crew members on board Seabed Constructor. In addition, three officers of the Argentine navy and four family members of the crew of the ARA San Juan joined Seabed Constructor to observe the search operation.

Ocean Infinity’s AUV’s are capable of operating in water depths from 16 feet to nearly 20,000 feet. The AUVs are not tethered to their host vessel during operations, allowing them to go deeper and collect higher quality data for the search. The AUV software allows the vessels to make its own navigational decisions, particularly as it pertains to collision avoidance.

Plunkett said the AUVs found the submarine on “the last hour of the last day” of its 60-day contract with the Argentinian government. The search crew was initially confounded because there was compelling evidence that the submarine was in a completely different location.

“We’re looking for something less than 60 meters long that, as it was laying on the seabed, looked like rocks,” Plunkett said. “Where it was found, it was on a 3-meter high ledge surrounded by rocks. So it was not just looking for a needle in a haystack, but the needle looked like a piece of straw.”

nick.powell@chron.com

AP RADIO
Update hourly