Sub San Juan went missing Wednesday; NASA’s Antarctic P-3 is now flying a search pattern.
NASA has dispatched a modified P-3 Orion patrol plane—previously used by the Navy for submarine hunting—to aid in the search. The P-3 is equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector (or magnetometer), a gravimeter for detecting small fluctuations in the Earth’s gravity, infrared cameras, and other sensors for measuring ice thickness. With that array, the P-3 may be able to detect the submerged submarine.
The P-3 had been flying out of the Argentine city of Ushuaia as part of NASA’s IceBridge annual Antarctic survey. This is the first year that NASA has flown the P-3 as part of IceBridge, and the P-3 was operating out of Ushuaia because of its shorter range than the project’s other aircraft, a modified DC-8.
The NASA P-3 joins three Argentine Armada ships in the search—the destroyer ARA Sarandí (D-13) and two corvettes, ARA Rosales (P-42) and ARA Drummond (P-31). Reuters reports that Argentine naval spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters today, “We are investigating the reasons for the lack of communication [with the submarine]. If there was a communication problem, the boat would have to come to the surface.” The submarine was traveling from Ushuaia to Mar del Plata, and it was expected to stay on course regardless of communications. The lack of any sighting or contact led to a request for assistance from NASA.
Sam LaGrone of US Naval Institute News reports that Argentina has not requested further assistance from the US yet, but the US Navy is preparing submarine rescue gear just in case.