One of our submarines...
November 17, 2017 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Argentine submarine San Juan has been missing for more than two days.

In a weird coincidence, San Juan was also the name of the US submarine that went missing in 2007. Hopefully this San Juan is also only misplaced.
posted by ctmf (28 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Props for the Thomas Dolby reference.
posted by NedKoppel at 10:01 PM on November 17, 2017 [16 favorites]

This is not an entirely unplanned for possibility - presumably The International Submarine Escape and Rescue Liaison Office (ISMERLO) will be involved in the search and rescue operation.
posted by ctmf at 10:15 PM on November 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

That 4am call for the US San Juan must have been brutal for the families. I hope this one is also just misplaced.
posted by saucysault at 10:18 PM on November 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

That’s a horror that reaches deep. I worked on a dive boat for a fisherman (also a diver) who had been a submariner. During his career in the Navy, the boat struck an undersea mountain, with all the darkness and panic you can imagine. When I worked for him, one of the rules he set was not to startle him when the boat was underway and he was asleep. For a newb at the wheel like me, everything was a reason to wake up the boss — but how to do it quietly?

I hope they find those sailors and that they are alright.
posted by notyou at 11:13 PM on November 17, 2017 [16 favorites]

I've been through a few minor fires onboard submarines. It happens, there's a lot of electrical equipment crammed in there. We were highly trained and the fire always got put out in seconds, but it is something every single person on board reacts to immediately. There is no such thing as a ho-hum small harmless fire. I hope it wasn't that.
posted by ctmf at 11:25 PM on November 17, 2017 [21 favorites]

Even now my first reaction to the fire alarm in the building going off is to drop (literally, on the floor) whatever I'm doing and go for a fire extinguisher to take it to the fire. And you better believe I know where they all are. (When the actual correct answer in a building is... leave the building)
posted by ctmf at 11:29 PM on November 17, 2017 [25 favorites]

It may have been found.
posted by ctmf at 11:45 PM on November 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

As the original artile said, the reports of finding it are premature. And I really hate to say this, but if something did go seriously wrong, the idea of rescue is incredibly optimistic.
posted by happyroach at 11:53 PM on November 17, 2017

It may have been found.

That's not good.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:53 PM on November 17, 2017

In a subsequent post by Malcolm Nance about the likelihood of rescue he says, Good chance with international Deep submergence rescue vehicles coming.

Another Twitter user in the thread, listed as living in Buenos Aires, claims that they have enough supplies to be there for at least 10 days, there’s plenty of time now that they’ve been found
posted by XMLicious at 1:45 AM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is a very old submarine. It was launched 34 years ago.

For some reason, the boat has failed to establish communications after diving.

Whatever semantics are used, ARA San Juan is missing. For a submarine, 'Missing' means 'Lost'.

Most probably, it is a flooding incident. Something broke and high-pressure sea water blasted through the hull. The crew will have trained for this, and will have done their best to stop the source of flooding. Then they will have worked to close areas being flooded. As this is going on, they will have blown all their ballast tanks. If they still had propulsion, they would have used any speed to drive them up to the surface.

The Fundamental Law of Submarine Incidents: If they are not on the surface, they are on the bottom.

So: How deep is the bottom? Some reports say 70m. I hope that's true. At that depth, a rescue is possible.
posted by Combat Wombat at 7:16 AM on November 18, 2017 [9 favorites]

If the weather is that bad, they might not want to surface with limited propulsion or steering, just for habitability reasons. The hull shape of a submarine isn't very roll-resistant and being on the surface in bad weather sucks. Still, in a diesel you'd have to snorkel sometime. I don't know what the battery endurance is with all non-vital loads turned off, but 3 days seems long.
posted by ctmf at 9:54 AM on November 18, 2017

That's a German-built sub, and Germany had their entire submarine fleet in drydock for an emergency upgrade earlier in the year.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:58 AM on November 18, 2017

This is a very old submarine. It was launched 34 years ago.

It's getting up there.

Active US Navy Submarines that old or older: Bremerton, Jacksonville, Buffalo, Olympia, Providence, Pittsburgh, Ohio, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Henry M. Jackson, Alabama, Alaska, Nevada. (Dallas, but it's being inactivated now, never going to sea again.)
posted by ctmf at 11:04 AM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Still, in a diesel you'd have to snorkel sometime.

The sub likely has systems to greatly extend the time it can stay underwater. Here’s hoping the batteries aren’t damaged and the structure is intact.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 11:50 AM on November 18, 2017

My little brother served on the Olympia just a few years ago. According to Wikipedia, the San Juan underwent a major refitting just a few years ago, intended to extend its life for another 30 years.
posted by Big Al 8000 at 11:54 AM on November 18, 2017

B-52s are all 50 years old, at least. I'd still feel better in one of them than in a sub. I hope this ends happily. And soon. After the Royal Navy submarine Conqueror sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano 35 years ago, it's nice to see them cooperating in the search. The Chileans are helping too.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:07 PM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Seems like even with no electric power, they could survive at least 6 days. (Atmospheric changes and physiological responses during a 6-day "disabled submarine" exercise.)

One thing you want to avoid in that situation is using forced-air breathing devices (EAB or SCUBA-type) because that tends to raise internal pressure in the boat. Then you're looking at bottom-time like a diver and you could actually prevent yourself from being able to safely escape without hyperbaric rescue vehicles of some sort. But if there was a fire and the atmosphere is bad, you might not have a choice.
posted by ctmf at 12:29 PM on November 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

How deep is the bottom? Some reports say 70m.

They seem to be concentrating the search around the edge of the continental shelf.
posted by ctmf at 5:28 PM on November 18, 2017

The Argentine Navy is reporting seven attempted satellite phone calls appearing to originate from the Submarine on Saturday is a hopeful sign.
posted by saucysault at 7:48 PM on November 18, 2017 [5 favorites]

That could be good if the boat's out there, lost the radio room for some reason, and keeps popping up for long enough to snorkel and try to make a sat phone call, before diving under the weather again.

It's bad if they decided one or two should escape with the sat phone to summon help for the others, and they're in a raft in shitty weather and can't get through. That's pretty adventure-movie unlikely, though.
posted by ctmf at 8:55 PM on November 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

The reporting makes it sound as if the call came from gear installed on the sub itself ("use its antenna"). But maybe that's just imprecise language.

If it has propulsion then presumably this is just a communications failure and not in fact a dire emergency?

Alternatively, would wave motion explain the call failures, in the raft scenario? By preventing the antenna from staying oriented?
posted by snuffleupagus at 8:14 AM on November 19, 2017

presumably this is just a communications failure and not in fact a dire emergency?

That's what the Argentine Navy seemed initially to think, but I don't know. Seems like by now they could have already been back in port unless something else is going on.
posted by ctmf at 11:42 AM on November 19, 2017

Feels weird speculating, but is it plausible that there could be an accident that would knock out comms and cause the boat to lose propulsion (or, maybe just the controls needed to maintain course, I suppose) but still be able to surface, recharge the batteries, and dive again? I guess that would require working ballast controls and some engine capacity even if you can't engage the prop. Maybe manual controls for ballast that would survive a navigation and comms failure?
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:49 PM on November 19, 2017

Speaking only for the types of boats I've been on, you could surface and dive (as a binary condition) without power or propulsion. Main ballast tank vents can be open and shut by hand if even stored hydraulic pressure is out. Stored compressed air empties them until you use up all the air.

I'm not sure I'd want to dive again like that. Depth control would be all but impossible without propulsion (dive planes worthless with no speed) or ability to pump and flood aux tanks. And no way to recharge air banks with compressors.

I'm having trouble coming up with something plausible that explains the attempted phone calls, but not returning to port and no EPIRB, other than "completely oblivious of the giant hubbub we're causing." Or, unfortunately, sub is lost and calls are an anomaly.
posted by ctmf at 1:31 PM on November 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

"...on Sunday, the Argentine Navy said that it was still analyzing the calls and that there was no 'clear evidence' that the calls had come from the submarine. And the satellite phone company Iridium said in a statement that it had found no evidence that an Iridium phone aboard the vessel had been used since Wednesday morning."
posted by Chutzler at 8:53 PM on November 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

That noise was heard on the 15th - was it really only reported by the CTBTO today, or is it one of those things that takes a long time to validate, analyze, and confirm before they release the data?

If it was related to an explosion on the submarine, and given the time passed / apparent decreasing chance of having oxygen left or being rescued in time even if found, I hope that if the worst has happened, that it was immediate, utterly catastrophic, and painless for all.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 8:46 AM on November 23, 2017

For those in peril on the sea
posted by ctmf at 11:21 AM on November 23, 2017 [3 favorites]

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