Updated 1:04 PM ET, Thu November 23, 2017
(CNN) A noise detected near the last known location of a missing Argentine submarine on the day it vanished was consistent with an explosion, the Argentine navy said Thursday.
“An anomalous, singular, short, violent and non-nuclear event, consistent with an explosion, was registered,” navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told a news conference in Buenos Aires.
Teams from a dozen nations has been searching by air and sea for the ARA San Juan, which has 44 crew aboard and was last contacted off the coast of Argentina on November 15.
The latest update comes as the clock runs down on the chances of finding the vessel before its air supply runs out.
The San Juan has enough air to last only seven to 10 days if it has remained fully immersed since that time, experts say. If the submarine has surfaced or “snorkeled” — that is, raised a tube to the surface to refresh the vessel’s air — since then, the crew may have bought more time.
Anxious families have been waiting at Argentina’s Mar del Plata navy base, to which the submarine was heading when it vanished, for news of their loved ones. Meanwhile, ships and aircraft are scouring a swath of the South Atlantic for the missing vessel.
Balbi said information about the noise had first been given to Argentina on Wednesday by the United States.
In addition, the Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO), based in Vienna, Austria, informed Argentina on Thursday that its monitoring systems had detected an unusual sound.
On November 15, it said, “two CTBTO hydroacoustic stations detected an unusual signal in the vicinity of the last known position of missing Argentine submarine ARA San Juan.”
The sound of “an underwater impulsive event” was detected at 1:51 p.m. GMT (10:51 a.m. local time) by its underwater microphones, it said. The organization is set up to monitor compliance with the proposed nuclear-test ban treaty and has 11 hydroacoustic stations positioned around the world listening for signs of nuclear explosions.
“Details and data are being made available to the Argentinian authorities to support the search operations that are underway,” the organization said.
Balbi said six teams were currently searching for the missing submarine in waters of the Gulf of San Jorge, about 430 kilometers (268 miles) from the coast. The depth of the ocean varies considerably there, ranging from 200 to 2,000 meters, he said.
There was no evidence of any attack and no information on the cause of the noise, Balbi said.
Speaking to CNN before news of the possible explosion emerged, he questioned why the Argentine navy continued to say the submarine could be on the ocean surface, and why rescuers took so long to begin searching the ocean floor.
“It’s a lack of respect,” said the 34-year-old. “If it was on the surface, they would have found it. They didn’t, and they didn’t look for them at the bottom. If they did it earlier, it could have been different.”
He fears the situation will end badly. “They keep saying that a submarine in good condition can have this much time, but they don’t say how long they have if the submarine is not in good condition. So, what if it’s in bad shape?”
Cristian Ibáñez has a daughter, Elisa, 9. His wife, Fernanda Valacco, has told the girl little, hoping that her husband will return and she won’t have to explain what happened.
“She knows her father is missing, but she knows he’s fine and will be home soon,” Valacco told CNN on Wednesday. “I am sure all of the 44 will be fine and could come here any moment.”
Federico Ibáñez described a tense atmosphere on the navy base as family members huddled together praying for word of the sub’s discovery.
“They all stay there in a big room with bunk beds and some desks. Everybody is silent. Everybody is waiting. Waiting for what? I cannot stay there,” he said.
Also aboard the sub is Eliana Maria Krawczyk, Argentina’s first female submarine officer.
In 2004, she joined the navy after seeing an advertisement about military ships. She has voiced hopes of one day commanding a sub herself.
“At the time, there weren’t any female officers in the force. I took it as a challenge,” she once told the Argentine Defense Ministry in a video interview. “You can do the same things than any men do, even if you are in a traditionally male-dominated environment. … Any women can do it.”
Share your thoughts on this post