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US plane joins hunt for lost Indonesian submarine with 53 people on board after air runs out

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Indonesia pressed ahead with a search for a navy submarine off Bali on Saturday, hours after the oxygen supply for 53 crew members aboard is believed to have been exhausted, with a U.S. reconnaissance plane and other nations’ vessels set to join the hunt.

There’s concern the KRI Nanggala 402 may have sunk too deep to reach or recover in time. It lost contact after its last reported dive Wednesday off the resort island, and the navy chief has said it was expected to run out of oxygen early Saturday morning.

“We keep doing the search until we find it and whatever the result,” Indonesia military spokesperson Djawara Whimbo said.

An American reconnaissance plane, P-8 Poseidon, landed early Saturday and is set to join the search, along with 20 Indonesian ships, a sonar-equipped Australian warship and four Indonesian aircraft.

Singaporean rescue ships are also expected later Saturday, while Malaysian rescue vessels were due to arrive Sunday, bolstering the underwater hunt, Whimbo said.

He said Indonesia’s hydrographic vessel was still unable to detect an unidentified object exhibiting high magnetism that was earlier detected located at a depth of 165 to 330 feet.

“The object is floating in the water, so maybe it is moving,” he said.

Indonesian military, navy and police chiefs are due to hold a news conference later Saturday.

The sub disappeared Wednesday morning 60 miles north of Bali after a military exercise, Indonesia’s navy said. At the time, officials believed that the sub was more than 2,000 feet deep, making recovery impossible, authorities said. It’s a depth that threatens to crush the vessel.

While the new location raised hopes the sub is not as deep as feared, the situation remains dire. The 44-year-old German-made sub does not have an emergency docking collar on it that would allow a rescue submersible to attach itself and allow the crew to safely exit, naval authorities said.

Ahn Guk-hyeon, an official from South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering, told the AP that the collapse depth for the submarine was 200 meters (656 feet) when Daewoo refitted the vessel’s internal structures and systems in 2009-2012.

There have been no signs of life from the submarine, but family members have held out hope that the massive search effort would find the vessel in time.

“The family is in a good condition and keeps praying,” said Ratih Wardhani, the sister of 49-year-old crewman Wisnu Subiyantoro. “We are optimistic that the Nanggala can be rescued with all the crew.”

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has ordered all-out efforts to locate the submarine and asked Indonesians to pray for the crew’s safe return.

The submarine disappeared early Wednesday morning during a military exercise. An oil spill near its last position could indicate fuel tank damage, or be a signal from the sub’s crew, the Indonesian navy said.

The submarine was conducting a torpedo drill when contact was lost. It’s believed to be in the Bali Strait, a water channel between Bali and Java.

Frank Owen, secretary of the Submarine Institute of Australia, said the submarine could be at too great a depth for a rescue team to operate.

Owen, a former submariner who developed an Australian submarine rescue system, said the Indonesian vessel was not fitted with a rescue seat around an escape hatch designed for underwater rescues. He said a rescue submarine would make a waterproof connection to a disabled submarine with a so-called skirt fitted over the rescue seat so the hatch can be opened without the disabled submarine filling with water.

Twenty-one warships, three submarines, and five airplanes are searching for the sub, CNN reported. Singapore, Malaysia and India have each sent submarine rescue ships, according to the United States Naval Institute.

Navies from the U.S., Australia, France, and Germany have offered to assist.

The KRI Nanggala-402 sub is one of five operated by the Indonesian navy. It was built in 1977 by Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft, a German company. Indonesia bought it in 1981.

The sub went into service in 1981. It is a vintage Cakra-class vessel built by the former West Germany during the Cold War. It has been used by more than a dozen navies over the past five decades, including those from Argentina, Greece, India and Turkey.

Asian news organizations cited analysts who say that the nearly half-century old sub underscores the dangers of Indonesia’s decrepit military equipment.

Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies in Singapore, told the South China Morning Post that the submarine went missing in “no small part [due to] aging military hardware, though submarine accidents can also be attributed to human factors – errors in operating the boat, or even erroneous maintenance work done on the boat while moored alongside.”

The missing submarine was last refurbished in 2012.

Zachary Abuza, professor of Southeast Asia studies at the Washington-based National War College, told the South China Morning Post that the warm waters around Indonesia can take its toll on the nation’s sub fleet.

“Submarines last fewer years in tropical waters due to the warmer water, and Indonesia doesn’t have a great track record of caring for its ships,” he said.

SOURCE: USA TODAY Network reporting and research; Associated Press; Reuters

Rescuers desperately search for lost Indonesia submarine as oxygen runs out for crew of 53

Rescuers are searching for a lost Indonesian submarine that is running out of oxygen with 53 crew members on board.

USA TODAY

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