Relatives of the crew members largely gave up hope last week after officials disclosed that sensors had detected an unusual event that appeared to be an explosion in the area where the vessel had been sailing hours after the crew was last in contact. During that call, the submarine’s captain reported that a leak had damaged part of the vessel’s battery system.
Some relatives said even then they had held out hope for a miracle.
“Some days I got up and felt hopeless, but then I would run into somebody, or receive a message that referred to the possibility of finding them alive, and suddenly I was filled with hope again,” said Carlos Miguel Mendoza, 46, the brother of one of the missing sailors, Fernando Mendoza, 38. “But now it seems that as far as they are concerned, all is said and done, and they are, sadly, no longer alive.”
Fatal submarine incidents are extraordinarily rare in peacetime. The last major accident aboard a submarine happened in 2003, when 70 sailors died in a Chinese vessel during a training mission.
Argentine officials have said the San Juan was seaworthy when it set out on a routine training mission on Nov. 8 during which the sailors also sought to interdict illegal fishing boats. The German-made vessel had been in commission since the mid 1980s and had recently undergone a complete overhaul.
Relatives said they did not understand why navy officials disclosed that the submarine had experienced battery problems only several days into the search. Some are planning to take legal action to try to learn whether the navy knows more than it has disclosed to date.
“The only thing I want is for my son to turn up,” said Hilda Raquel Colombani, 65, Mr. Mendoza’s mother. “If he’s dead, I want his body so that we can carry out a proper Christian burial and to make sure he is not left in the bottom of the ocean forever.”
An earlier version of this article misstated the last major accident aboard a submarine. It was in 2003, when 70 sailors died after a systems failure on a Chinese submarine, not in 2000, when 118 sailors died during a training exercise on a Russian vessel, the Kursk.