The 34-year-old German-built diesel-electric submarine that was refitted between 2007 and 2014 had flagged a breakdown in its batteries and said it was diverting its route from the far south of Argentina's Atlantic waters to the navy base at Mar del Plata, where most of the crewmembers live.
There was a glimmer of hope Monday when Argentina's navy said it might have picked up noises coming from the ARA San Juan underwater.
Strong winds and high waves have hampered the search for the ARA San Juan and its 44 crew members in the past few days. In a worst-case scenario, the submarine ARA San Juan may run out of oxygen by Wednesday - if it has been unable to garner a fresh supply of air at the surface.
A total of 49 ships and aircraft from Argentina, the USA, the UK, Brazil, Chile and other countries were taking advantage of improved weather conditions to search an area larger than the state of California.
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'The most critical situation would be that we are in the sixth day of oxygen, ' the navy's spokesman, Capt. Enrique Balbi, said at a news conference. "We welcome the help we have received to find them".
In its last contact with its naval base last Wednesday, the submarine had given word of a battery glitch, Captain Gabriel Galeazzi, another navy spokesman, said. For now, based on the color, they don't belong to the submarine, ' Balbi said. "This is why we are deploying all resources with high-tech sensors".
Let's take a closer look at the ARA San Juan and unconfirmed reports that it has been detected.
Cards, banners with slogans and placards have been strung up on the outside of the Mar del Plata base's wire fence, expressing solidarity with the families tensely waiting for any news.
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The submarine was originally scheduled to arrive Sunday in Mar del Plata, a navy base about 250 miles southeast of Buenos Aires. More than 100 personnel were participating in the rescue operation, including U.S. and Argentinian navy operatives.
The waters of the Atlantic ocean, where the sounds were said to originate from, said the United States official, are extremely deep. Generally, a mechanism in the ship would release and send the submarine floating to the surface, concerned experts say, admitting confusion in the sub's failure to appear.
It was thought sounds detected by a search vessel in the area resembled objects being smashed against a submarine's hull, but hope it came from the missing vessel was dashed after analysis found the noise wasn't metallic. "The feeling is that they will come back, that we will tell us today, 'They are back'". But the raft is a different model than what would be carried on the San Juan, and a white flare is not typically used by the crew.
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