The U.S. Navy and Air Force are sending more resources to join a massive search operation for an Argentine navy submarine with a 44-person crew that has been out of radio contact for several days.
The first wave of sailors and equipment dispatched Saturday from San Diego by the Undersea Rescue Command is expected to arrive Sunday.
The U.S. personnel and equipment have joined a growing international effort to find the ARA San Juan, which was sailing from Tierra del Fuego on the southern tip of South America to its base at Mar del Plata, south of Buenos Aires. As of late Saturday, five other countries have said they will send search parties.
The area being searched off the country’s southern Atlantic coast has been doubled as concerns about the 44 crew members grew, Argentine navy spokesman Enrique Balbi said.
“We are not discounting any hypothesis,” Balbi said. Possibilities could include “a problem with communications” or with its power system.
The ARA San Juan is a German-built, electric-diesel powered submarine. The Argentine navy said the crew normally would bring the ship to the surface if it lost radio communication with the mainland.
The sub, which was on a routine mission when it went missing, was last heard from Wednesday morning.
In a tweet, Argentine President Mauricio Macri said that his country will use “all resources national and international that are necessary to find the submarine.”
Pledges of help also came from Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay. Britain was sending a polar exploration vessel, the HMS Protector, which British officials said should arrive Sunday.
Admiral Gabriel Gonzalez, chief of the Mar del Plata Naval Base, said authorities have bolstered both the surface search for the missing submarine and the underwater search.
There is “coordination with units from the United Kingdom and the United States,” he said. Britain and Argentina fought a war in 1982 over the Falklands Islands, which are called the Malvinas in Argentina.
Highly trained U.S. sailors will aid in the effort by deploying a submarine rescue chamber, which can descend to 850 feet and rescue up to six people at a time. Three U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III and one U.S. Air Force C-5 Galaxy aircraft are transporting the equipment.
A pressurized rescue module, which can rescue up to 16 people at a time by creating a seal over the submarine’s hatch, is scheduled to arrive in Argentina early next week.
A Navy P-8A Poseidon, which had been in El Salvador to help combat narcotics smuggling, and a NASA P-3 research aircraft are already in Argentina assisting in the search for the submarine near its last known location, the Navy said.
An Argentine destroyer and two corvette warships are conducting a search around the area of the sub’s last known position off the southeastern Valdez Peninsula, according to a BBC report. High winds and choppy seas have hampered the search.
The rescue operation has been formally upgraded to a search-and-rescue, Balbi said in a news conference, according to the BBC.
Relatives of the crew members gathered at the Mar del Plata Naval Base that was the submarine’s destination in the hopes of hearing news about their loved ones.
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“We feel anguish. We are reserved but will not lose our hope that they will return,” Marcela Moyano, wife of machinist Hernan Rodriguez, told television network TN.
From the Vatican, Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, said he was making “fervent prayers” for the crew.
Adm. Gabriel Gonzalez, chief of the Mar del Plata base, said the vessel had sufficient food and oxygen.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow Jim Michaels on Twitter: @jimmichaels
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