Friday, May 04, 2007
The Chilean navy and marine scientists say they may have found Latin America's first submarine, a steel tube topped by cannons, which sank off the coast of Chile 141 years ago. They say they have detected an object on the seabed in the Bay of Valparaiso, 90 miles west of the capital Santiago. "This object, its dimensions, its position, the way it's facing and the depth it's at are all extremely similar to the characteristics of the Flach," they said in a statement. The 39-foot vessel was designed in the 1860s by German immigrant Karl Flach and made several successful test voyages in 1866. But on May 3 of that year, it sank. The crew – two Chileans, two Frenchmen and seven Germans, including Flach and his 15-year-old son – all died. Three days later, the crew of a British frigate located the vessel and tried to raise it, but it was stuck fast in thick mud some 165 feet below the surface. Since then, no one has seen it.The team looking for the Flach say it was the first submarine built in Latin America and only the fifth in the world to make a successful underwater journey. They started looking for it in December without success, but returned to the seas last month with more equipment and better funding. They now plan to investigate the object to ascertain if it is indeed the submarine. Flach built his vessel at the request of the Chilean government to counter Spain's ambitions in the region. Topped by two steel cannons and an entry hatch, it relied on manpower to move. The crew had to turn handles at the back to power the propellers. Before its launch, only the United States and a handful of European nations had successfully tested submarines. "The work of evaluating a possible refloating of the vessel would be the next step," the organizers said.