Argentina says abnormal noise heard after submarine’s last contact as hopes fade

Above, supportive messages for the 44 crew members of Argentine missing submarine hang outside Argentina’s Navy base in Mar del Plata. The clock is ticking down on hopes of finding alive the 44 crew members now missing for a week, amid fears their oxygen had run out.(AFP)
Updated 23 November 2017
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Argentina says abnormal noise heard after submarine’s last contact as hopes fade

MAR DELA PLATA, Argentina: Argentina’s navy said Wednesday it was investigating an unusual noise detected in the South Atlantic hours after it last communicated with a missing submarine, but refused to confirm whether it indicated an explosion.
The development came as the clock was ticking down on hopes of finding alive the 44 crew members now missing for a week despite a massive search of surface and seabed, amid fears their oxygen had run out.
The ARA San Juan would have had enough oxygen for its crew to survive underwater in the South Atlantic for seven days since its last contact, according to officials. At 0730 GMT Wednesday, that time had elapsed.
Navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters a “hydro-acoustic anomaly” was detected in the ocean almost three hours after the last communication with the vessel on November 15, 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of its last known position.
Asked if the noise could have been an explosion, the spokesman declined to speculate, saying only: “It has to be corroborated and looked into.”
Balbi added: “We are in a very dangerous situation, and one that is getting worse.”
Information about the unusual noise became available Thursday after being relayed by the United States and “after all the information from all agencies reporting such hydroacoustic events was reviewed, Balbi explained.
“It would have been a very loud noise” and one that could have been an explosion, a former sub commander told AFP privately.
High seas and poor visibility in the South Atlantic have hampered the search since it began, around 200 miles (320 kilometers) off the Argentine coast. Waves have towered as high as six meters (20 feet).
The conditions have fed hopes that the vessel may be on the surface undetected.
Despite the mechanical problems it reported during its last contact last Wednesday, the crew could survive indefinitely if the sub retained the ability to rise to the surface to “snort” or replenish its air.
Conditions improved Tuesday, but the forecast for Thursday is once again poor.
The 34-year-old German-built diesel-electric submarine that was refitted between 2007 and 2014 had flagged a breakdown and said it was diverting to the navy base at Mar del Plata, where most of the crew members live.
It didn’t issue a distress call, however.
Jessica Gopar posted a moving letter to her husband, San Juan crewman Fernando Santilli, father of their one-year-old baby, on Facebook.
“Hi, Fernando. I don’t know if this finds you calm or desperate. Every day here becomes harder. There are moments of hope and great distress.”
“I am surrounded by family, your colleagues, acquaintances and friends, there is not moment that we do not pray for your rescue. Today has to be that day,” she wrote.
The sub’s disappearance has gripped the nation, and President Mauricio Macri visited the relatives — who have endured days of false hopes — and prayed with them.
US President Donald Trump offered his support Wednesday, tweeting: “May God be with them and the people of Argentina!“
Underwater sounds detected by two Argentine search ships were determined to originate from a sea creature, not the vessel.
Satellite signals were also determined to be false alarms.
“A light begins to shine, and then it goes out,” said Maria Morales, the mother of one of the missing sailors.
“There is a curtain of smoke, we don’t know anything,” said Elena Alfaro, whose brother is aboard the submarine.
“It doesn’t make sense that so much time has passed without anyone knowing anything,” she added.
“The hours go by. We’re hoping for a miracle. I don’t want to bury my brother, I want him with me. I feel he’ll come back, but I am aware of time passing.”
Argentina is leading an air-and-sea search with help from several countries including Brazil, Britain, Chile, Colombia, France, Germany, Peru, the United States and Uruguay.
The defense ministry said the search area could be expanded sevenfold, though it was already large.
The incident has recalled recent submarine disasters, perhaps most prominently that of the Kursk, a Russian nuclear sub that caught fire and exploded underwater in 2000, killing all 118 on board — some instantly, others over several days.
An accident aboard a Chinese sub in 2003 killed 70 crew, apparently suffocated after what Beijing termed “mechanical problems.”
Among the ARA San Juan’s crew is Argentina’s first female navy submariner: Eliana Krawczyk, 35.
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.
“There’s a mix of feelings: pain, helplessness, at times hope,” Morales said.
“The feeling is that they will come back, that we will tell ourselves today, ‘They are back.’”


Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

Updated 42 min 35 sec ago
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Fury clouds funeral plans for Italy bridge victims

  • The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country
  • According to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part in the state funeral, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend

GENOA: Grieving relatives wept over the coffins of dozens of victims of Genoa’s bridge disaster Friday amid growing fury over a planned state funeral, while rescuers pressed on with their tireless search for those missing in the rubble.
The collapse of the Morandi bridge, a decades-old viaduct that crumbled in a storm on Tuesday killing at least 38 people, has stunned and angered the country, with Italian media reporting that some outraged families would shun Saturday’s official ceremonies.
Italy’s government has blamed the operator of the viaduct for the tragedy and threatened to strip the firm of its contracts, while the country’s creaking infrastructure has come under fresh scrutiny.
Authorities plan a state funeral service on Saturday at a hall in Genoa, coinciding with a day of mourning.
Relatives who gathered at the hall on Friday embraced and prayed over lines of coffins, many adorned with flowers and photographs of the dead.
But according to La Stampa newspaper, the families of 17 victims have refused to take part, while a further seven have yet to decide whether they will attend.
“It is the state who has provoked this; let them not show their faces, the parade of politicians is shameful,” the press cited the mother of one of four young Italians from Naples who died.
The father of another of the dead from Naples took to social media to vent his anger.
“My son will not become a number in the catalogue of deaths caused by Italian failures,” said his grieving father, Roberto.
“We do not want a farce of a funeral but a ceremony at home.”
Despite fading hopes of finding survivors, rescue workers said they had not given up as they resumed the dangerous operation to search through the unstable mountains of debris.
“Is there anyone there? Is there anyone there?” one firefighter shouted into a cavity dug out of the piles of concrete and twisted metal, in a video published by the emergency services.
Between 10 and 20 people are still missing, according to Genoa’s chief prosecutor.
Ten people remain in hospital, six of them in a serious condition.
Hundreds of rescuers are using cranes and bulldozers to cut up and remove the biggest slabs of the fallen bridge, which slammed down onto railway tracks along with dozens of vehicles.
“We are trying to find pockets in the rubble where people could be — alive or not,” fire official Emanuele Gissi told AFP.
Officials say about 1,000 people in all are working on the disaster site, 350 of them firefighters.
The populist government has accused infrastructure giant Autostrade per L’Italia of failing to invest in sufficient maintenance and said it would seek to revoke its lucrative contracts.
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini demanded that the company offer up to 500 million euros ($570 million) to help families and local government deal with the aftermath of the disaster.
The dead also include children, one as young as eight, and three Chileans and four French nationals.
The French nationals, all in their 20s, had traveled to Italy for a music festival, and other victims included a family setting off on holiday and a couple returning from their California honeymoon.
More than 600 people were evacuated from around a dozen apartments beneath the remaining shard of bridge.
On Thursday evening the first residents of some buildings in the affected area were allowed to return home, though others are too badly damaged to save.
The Morandi viaduct dates from the 1960s and has been riddled with structural problems for decades, leading to expensive maintenance and severe criticism from engineering experts.
Its collapse prompted fears over aging infrastructure across the world.
Italy has announced a year-long state of emergency in the region.
Autostrade, which operates and maintains nearly half of Italy’s motorways, estimates it will take five months to rebuild the bridge.
It denies scrimping on motorway maintenance, saying it has invested over one billion euros a year in “safety, maintenance and strengthening of the network” since 2012.
Atlantia, the holding company of Autostrade which is 30 percent owned by iconic fashion brand Benetton, has warned that the government would have to refund the value of the contract, which runs until at least 2038.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said Autostrade “had the duty and obligation to assure the maintenance of this viaduct and the security of all those who traveled on it.”
The disaster is the latest in a string of bridge collapses in Italy, where infrastructure generally is showing the effects of a faltering economy.
Senior government figures have also lashed out at austerity measures imposed by the European Union, saying they restrict investment.
But the European Commission said it had given Rome billions of euros to fix infrastructure.