By Lt.j.g. Ridgely Riggs
VP-5 Public Affairs
For two weeks in late November, the "Mad Foxes" of Patrol Squadron (VP) 5 conducted search and rescue operations out of Bahia Blanca, Argentina for the Argentine submarine ARA San Juan that went missing Nov. 15.
The San Juan had departed on a journey from Tierra del Fuego back to its homeport in Mar de Plata when approximately halfway through the transit the submarine crew ceased routine communications, at which point an international search began covering thousands of square miles along the submarine's planned route.
Shortly after it became clear the submarine was missing, Combat Air Crew (CAC) 8 and CAC-12 of VP-5 were dispatched from El Salvador with a small component of maintainers to make the 3,500 mile journey through the night to Bahia Blanca. Within 26 hours of the order to launch, VP-5 was on station conducting search and rescue operations.
The 'Mad Foxes' brought the P-8A Poseidon, the U.S. Navy's premier long-range maritime patrol plane equipped with an array of sensors that allow for submarine detection and large-area surface search. The P-8A is a modified Boeing 737-800 specializing in anti-submarine warfare and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, capable of quickly reaching its search area and remaining for many hours. The P-8A will fly in excess of 10 hours and cover thousands of miles in a single flight when the mission demands it.
The 'Mad Foxes' were joined by CAC-2 of VP-10, based out of Naval Air Station Jacksonville, with another P-8A shortly after, and the aircrews flew two missions daily in a race against the clock to locate the missing submarine. The crews logged 18 hours per day while searching for any possible signs of the San Juan. Over the course of 20 missions and 177 flight hours, tens of thousands of square miles were scoured with radar. The two P-8A's also dropped over 700 sonobuoys, which are used by the P-8A to detect submerged submarines acoustically.
"We worked hard to make sure the submarine had the best chance of being found and with every radar return or possible acoustic contact, there was a palpable excitement that we might have found it and would be able to facilitate the crew's rescue," said Lt. Eran Wilson, "Mad Fox" CAC-12 mission commander. "Though every false alarm was a letdown, we never lost hope. The gravity of the situation was never lost on us."
Though the search and rescue operation did not locate the missing submarine, the aircrews and maintenance teams have given their all to maximize the search effort. The "Mad Foxes" travelled across a hemisphere on short notice to help stand up this international search effort and proudly support the Argentine navy in its time of need and stand ready to answer any call.
VP-5 is currently on a split-site deployment to Sigonella, Italy, and Comalapa, El Salvador, where they have been conducting counter-narcotic operations in support of Operation Martillo.