A NASA research aircraft has joined in the search for a missing Argentine submarine and its crew of 44, a defense official told USNI News on Friday.
The NASA P-3 Orion is now looking for the diesel-electric attack boat ARA San Juan (S-42), which has not been heard from since Wednesday, according to press reports from the region.
In addition to the U.S. P-3, the Argentine Armada has dispatched destroyer ARA Sarandí (D-13), and corvettes ARA Rosales (P-42) and ARA Drummond (P-31).
“We are investigating the reasons for the lack of communication,” Argentine naval spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters, according to Reuters.
“If there was a communication problem, the boat would have to come to the surface.”
The submarine departed from the Argentine Armada naval base in the southern city of Ushuaia, located southwest of the Strait of Magellan, and was headed to its homeport at Mar del Plata, near Buenos Aries. The submarine was last heard from about 250 miles off of Patagonia.
The NASA P-3, a modified anti-submarine warfare platform, had been operating out of Ushuaia as part of its annual Antarctic survey when it was asked to join in the search for the missing submarine, U.S. Southern Command spokesman Jose Ruiz told USNI News.
Ruiz said SOUTHCOM was in communication with the State Department and preparing options for a response in case a formal request for assistance were made.
Outside of the NASA aircraft, the U.S. has not been asked to contribute assets to the search but is preparing specialized submarine rescue equipment in anticipation of a request from Buenos Aries, USNI News has learned.
U.S. Navy Undersea Rescue Command is mobilizing the specialized submarine rescue equipment and personnel in San Diego to crew the Submarine Rescue Diving and Recompression System (SRDRS), two defense officials confirmed to USNI News.
The system can be transported via cargo aircraft and loaded onto a surface ship for rescue operations.
San Juan is one of three Argentine Armada submarines. The German-built TR-1700 attack boat joined the fleet in 1985 and completed a midlife upgrade in 2013, U.S. Naval Institute’s Combat Fleets of the World author Eric Wertheim told USNI News on Friday.