JAKARTA, Indonesia — The U.S. Navy has deployed a P-8 Poseidon aircraft to help search for the missing Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala 402 — and may send other assets to join the search.
“At the request of the Indonesian government, we are sending airborne assets to include a Navy P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft to assist the search of the missing submarine,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Friday.
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin III spoke with Indonesian Minister of Defense Prabowo Subianto Friday morning to ensure Subianto “knew that this aircraft was coming and to make an offer for any other additional support or assistance that the Indonesian government might have,” Kirby said.
A readout of the call said additional assistance could include undersea search assets.
Indonesia’s navy scoured the waters off Bali Friday, bolstered by the arrival of a sonar-equipped Australian warship with a helicopter, in an increasingly frantic search for a missing submarine with only hours of oxygen left for its 53 crewmembers.
The KRI Nanggala 402 went missing during its last reported dive Wednesday off the resort island, and concern is mounting it may have sunk too deep to reach or recover in time. The navy chief said the submarine was expected to run out of oxygen early Saturday morning.
“We will maximize the effort today, until the time limit tomorrow at 3 a.m.,” military spokesman Maj. Gen. Achmad Riad told reporters.
There have been no signs of life from the submarine, but family members 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.”
Twenty-four Indonesian ships and a patrol plane were mobilized for the search Friday, focusing on the area where an oil slick was found after the submarine disappeared during an exercise. Rescuers made similar massive searches in the previous two days.
Two Australian ships “will help expand the search area and extend the duration of the search effort,” Australian Navy Rear Adm. Mark Hammond said.
Indonesian President Joko Widodo canceled a visit to Banyuwangi port, where some rescue ships left earlier, to prepare for a weekend regional summit in Jakarta, officials said. He asked Indonesians to pray for the crew’s safe return, while ordering all-out efforts to locate the submarine.
“Our main priority is the safety of the 53 crew members,” Widodo said in a televised address on Thursday. “To the family of the crew members, I can understand your feelings and we are doing our best to save all crew members on board.”
There’s been no conclusive evidence the oil slick was from the sub. Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Yudo Margono said oil could have spilled from a crack in the submarine’s fuel tank or the crew could have released fuel and fluids to reduce the vessel’s weight so it could surface.
Margono said an unidentified object exhibiting high magnetism was located at a depth of 165 to 330 feet and officials held out hope it is the submarine.
The navy said it believes, however, that the submarine sank to a depth of 2,000-2,300 feet, much deeper than its collapse depth, at which water pressure would be greater than the hull could withstand. The vessel’s collapse depth was estimated at 655 feet by a South Korean company that refitted the vessel in 2009-2012.
The cause of the disappearance is still uncertain. The navy has said an electrical failure could have left the submarine unable to execute emergency procedures to resurface.
The German-built, diesel-powered Nanggala has been in service in Indonesia since 1981 and was carrying 49 crew members and three gunners as well as its commander, the Indonesian Defense Ministry said.
Navy Times staff writer Diana Stancey Correll and Associated Press writers Hyung-in Kim in Seoul, South Korea, Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia, and Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.