A National Geographic expedition sails Saturday to find and photograph the Argentine warship General Belgrano, sunk by Britain's Royal Navy during the 1982 Malvinas/Falklands war.
Accompanied by an Argentine Navy ship, the National Geographic-chartered ship carrying technicians, filmmakers, and veterans from both sides of the war, is expected to arrive Sunday in the general area of the Belgrano's location in international waters about 100 nautical miles (180 kilometers) off the southern coast of Argentina.
The expedition, led by American ocean explorer Curt Newport, will use side-scan sonar and a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) submersible, the Magellan, equipped with cameras and other devices to search for the Argentine Navy cruiser.
The goal of the expedition is to pinpoint the exact location of the A.R.A. General Belgrano and to record its location on film. The resulting two-hour documentary will be aired on the National Geographic Channel worldwide and on PBS later this year. In the United Kingdom, National Geographic Channel will first premiere the program in late May, with a subsequent broadcast scheduled on Channel 4.
Some 323 Argentine lives were lost out of a crew of 1,093 when the Belgrano was torpedoed by the British nuclear submarine, H.M.S. Conqueror on May 2, 1982.
National Geographic Society researchers believe the ship is located about 4,200 meters (13,800 feet) under the surface of the sea, said John Bredar, executive producer of the documentary. "At that depth, looking for the Belgrano will be like standing on top of the Empire State Building and trying to find a pin on the street below." He said the expedition rates its chances of success at better than 50 percent, depending on the weather.
"Fortunately, we understand from the Argentine Navy that the ocean floor in that area is generally flat," Bredar said. "That will make it easier for the sonar to find 'targets.'"
The expedition team plans to scan a wide swathe of the ocean bottom by systematically sweeping the area in a grid pattern underwater experts call "mowing the lawn." When promising objects have been identified by sonar the search team will lower Magellan over the side of the search ship, sending the ROV on a four-hour ride to the bottom to check them out visually.
Newport, best known for his 1999 discovery of NASA's Liberty Bell 7, has piloted ROVs on more than 50 undersea expeditions. These include the salvage of Air India Flight 182, the US space shuttle Challenger, and TWA Flight 800. He was also involved in the broadcast of live images from the sunken ocean liner, R.M.S. Titanic.
National Geographic has worked in close collaboration with the Argentine Navy on preparations for the expedition. Should the A.R.A. General Belgrano be located, the expedition will only film the exterior of the ship and will not remove any artifacts from the site, Bredar said.
In addition, Captain Pedro Galazi, former second-in-command on the A.R.A. General Belgrano, will oversee the laying of a memorial plaque and medal presented by the Congress on behalf of the Argentine people, as a tribute to lives lost in the sinking.
National Geographic's documentary will tell the story of the Belgrano with sensitivity, Bredar said. "We understand that although the war took place 20 years ago it is still fresh in the minds of many people. But at the same time we are able to include the personal stories of people who were there, from both sides, and this is the best way to tell a wider worldwide audience about what happened to the Belgrano," he said.