MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina -- The Argentine navy said Thursday that a catastrophic explosion was recorded in the area where a submarine disappeared Nov. 15, a disclosure that immediately caused relatives of the 44 crew members to burst into tears.
The nature of the explosion, which was described as an "anomalous, short, violent" event, was not immediately clear, but the disclosure dampened the hopes of a multinational team of rescuers who have been searching for the vessel and revived concerns about the worst outcome.
Capt. Enrique Balbi, a spokesman for the Argentine navy, said the international search team would continue to look for the vessel, the San Juan.
"Until we have certainty, we're going to carry on the search effort," he said Wednesday morning.
Upon hearing the news, relatives and sailors at the naval base in Mar del Plata embraced, and many broke down crying.
Itati Leguizamon, 29, the wife of German Suarez, 32, an engineer on the submarine, said the crew had been worried about the state of maintenance of the vessel.
"My husband told me there were problems," she said.
Leguizamon said that she and other relatives felt the navy had withheld information during the search.
"They deceived us," she said. "They manipulated us."
A man was sobbing as he left the area where relatives had been told about the explosion.
"The bosses steal all the money," he said.
Experts have said that if the San Juan was intact but submerged, its crew might have only enough oxygen to last seven to 10 days.
The U.S. Navy, which is helping with the search, shared the information about the catastrophic explosion with the Argentines on Wednesday, according to Balbi.
The Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, which runs monitoring stations equipped with underwater microphones, supplied corroborating information Thursday about the explosion via the Argentine ambassador in Austria.
After analyzing the two pieces of information, the Argentine navy broke the news initially to relatives and then, minutes later, to journalists assembled at a base in Mar del Plata.
The submarine was not armed with nuclear weapons, and the explosion was not believed to have involved a nuclear weapon, Balbi said.
The two reports about an explosion each provided a radius of about 77 miles, and that area is now being searched.
Balbi said there was no way of knowing what had caused the accident.
"Unfortunately, we don't have that information: what may have been the cause in that location, on that day, of an event of these characteristics," Balbi said.
Cmdr. Erik Reynolds, a spokesman for the U.S. Navy, said that U.S. analysts had ruled out the possibility that the "hydro-acoustic anomaly," as he called the explosion, could have been caused by volcanic or seismic activity.
"That was not a natural sound you hear in an ocean environment," he said.
Reynolds said that despite the bleak news, U.S. rescue personnel were still scouring the area.
"For the United States, this is still a search-and-rescue mission," he said. "We're still presuming that they're alive."
The news Thursday followed a string of reports that had raised and then dashed the hopes of the sailors' families.
They included an account about satellite phone calls having been made from the submarine, which turned out to be false, and recordings of sounds that were described in news reports as possibly having come from sailors banging on the hull of the vessel to alert rescuers. That report, too, turned out to be unfounded.
A Section on 11/24/2017
Print Headline: Explosion recorded where sub vanished