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Search For Missing Argentinean Submarine And Crew Continues


Several countries are helping with the search for a missing Argentine submarine. But concerns about the fate of the crew are growing. Officials worry the vessel's oxygen supply is running short. NPR's Philip Reeves has more.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: The submarine, the San Juan, has now been missing for nearly a week. Planes and ships searching the ocean have found nothing but disappointments. Today, there were more of these.

ENRIQUE BALBI: (Speaking Spanish).

REEVES: A life raft was spotted in the water, explains the Argentine navy spokesman Captain Enrique Balbi. It turned out to be empty and from another ship. A plane also reported seeing white flares. Balbi says the authorities are trying to figure out who launched these. But they're not believed to be from the submarine, as the emergency flares onboard the San Juan are not white but red.

The submarine last made contact with the Argentine navy early Wednesday. That same day, it reported a problem with its batteries and was told to head back to base in the Argentine port of Mar del Plata. The San Juan has a crew of 43 men and one woman. She's the first female officer to serve on an Argentine naval sub. Their families are enduring an agonizing wait. The Argentine public's also praying that the crew will be found alive, says Federico Poore, a journalist in Buenos Aires.

FREDERICO POORE: I believe Argentine people are very, very close to this event, very emotional about it. They're close to their radios an TV's hoping that everything will turn fine in the end.

REEVES: There may not be much time. Balbi of the Argentine Navy told reporters this week the San Juan has enough oxygen for seven days. Today, he added this.

BALBI: (Through interpreter) Assuming the worst, that the submarine's been underwater and could not renew its oxygen with a snorkel or rise to the surface would be in the sixth day.

REEVES: Aircraft and ships from Argentina, the U.S., Britain, Brazil and other nations are looking for the sub. Probes on two of these ships picked up some noise underwater. There was hope that maybe this came from the San Juan and then more disappointment when experts ruled that out. There is one positive development. The South Atlantic storms that were badly hampering the search have subsided. Philip Reeves, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.