– After an initial burst of optimism that they might be closer to finding a submarine that has been missing since Wednesday, Argentine authorities on Sunday began expressing caution as fears grew about the fate of the 44 crew members.

The Defense Ministry on Saturday based its hopeful statements on reports that there had been seven attempts to communicate by satellite phone around the search area. But on Sunday the navy said that it was still analyzing the calls and that there was no "clear evidence" that the vessel originating the calls was the submarine.

Iridium, a satellite phone company, also said in a statement that it had found no evidence that the Iridium phone aboard the submarine had been used since Wednesday. It was not immediately clear whether satellite equipment from a different provider might have also been onboard.

The search for the San Juan was hampered Sunday by inclement weather and strong winds in the area off Argentina's Patagonian coast, with waves reaching about 20 to 26 feet, said Adm. Gabriel González, chief of the Mar del Plata base that was the submarine's destination. As a result, most of the search efforts were conducted by planes rather than ships.

The submarine, which stopped communicating Wednesday, had been due to arrive back in port Sunday. The anxious families of the crew members have been gathering inside the naval base.

"We continue to pray and wait!!" Marcela Moyano, whose husband, Hernán Rodríguez, is on the submarine, wrote on Facebook. "A little bit confusing, no??? They won't take me out of here until I see you get down from the submarine, my love."

International participation in the search grew Sunday.

The U.S. Navy deployed two "independent rescue assets" from its Undersea Rescue Command, which is based in San Diego. This is in addition to the Navy P-8A Poseidon aircraft and the NASA P-3 research aircraft that had already joined the search.

The British military is also providing assistance, which is particularly notable given the war Britain and Argentina fought in 1982 over the Falkland Islands, which Argentina calls the Malvinas and has long claimed as its sovereign territory.

The submarine was 240 nautical miles from the coast when it last communicated with the base.

New York Times