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Argentina Intensifies Search for Navy Submarine With 44 Crew Members

This 2013 photo provided by the Argentina Navy shows an ARA San Juan, a German-built diesel-electric vessel, near Buenos Aires, Argentina. Argentina's Navy said Friday, Nov. 17, 2017, it has lost contact with its ARA San Juan submarine off the country's southern coast.

The Argentine navy said Saturday it has intensified its search for a submarine carrying 44 crew members that went missing Wednesday, but efforts are being hindered by strong winds and six-meter waves.

The navy lost contact with the German-built diesel-electric submarine as it was returning from a routine mission from the naval base at Ushuaia, in Argentina's extreme south, to its base at Mar del Platamand.

Despite the turbulent weather, base commander Admiral Gabriel Gonzalez said naval forces were increasing efforts above and below the water's surface and were preparing to comb the bottom of the ocean.

"The underwater search is obviously much more complicated than the search at the surface because it requires a combination of high-tech tools," Gonzalez said at a news conference.

The navy, which launched an air and sea search on Thursday, said an initial search at the vessel’s last known position, about 430 kilometers off the southeastern Valdez peninsula, turned up no clues.

Argentine officials said they accepted an offer from the United States to participate in the search. A NASA P-3 explorer aircraft that had been stationed in Ushuaia has joined Argentine military aircraft that have been flying over the area. Late Friday, the U.S. Southern Command announced a P-8A Poseidon plane departed an air base in El Salvador to join the search.

Argentine navy commander Carlos Zavalla encouraged family, friends and colleagues of the crew members to remain positive. "So far, the only concrete thing is the lack of communication," he said on local TV.

Pope Francis, a native of Argentina, was among many from around the world to offer support. The pope's office said on Saturday he is praying "fervently" for the crew to safely return to their families soon.

The navy has said it believed an electrical outage may have caused communication problems on the vessel. Navy protocol directs submarines to rise to the surface when communication is lost.