There are few scarier ways to die than being trapped on a sinking submarine, but 52 members of the French navy suffered that exact fate when their vessel, La Minerve, suddenly sank on January 17, 1968. More than five decades after the tragedy, the sub has finally been located near the port of Toulon on the south coast of France.
According to The Guardian, La Minerve disappeared at 7.55 am on that fateful day, taking just four minutes to descend to the ocean floor. A number of search operations have since been launched, yet none had found any trace of the stricken vessel, leaving the families of those on board with nothing but unanswered questions about how the disaster occurred.
However, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces, Florence Parly, recently commissioned a new search that took a novel approach to the task. The team analyzed and modeled currents and tides in the western Mediterranean, while also revisiting key data from the time of the disappearance, such as seismic reports, in order to hone in on the lost sub.
A senior French naval officer – who has chosen to remain anonymous – told Agence France-Presse that the wreckage of La Minerve was then found some 45 kilometers (28 miles) off the coast of Toulon at a depth of 2,370 meters (7,800 feet). A private vessel called the Seabed Constructor, which is owned by American firm Ocean Infinity, was used to locate the submarine.
After arriving in the vicinity of the wreck, the Seabed Constructor deployed its underwater drones to catch a glimpse of La Minerve. Lying on the ocean floor, the submarine had broken up into three separate pieces, with some of the letters of its name clearly visible on one of these segments.
Now that the vessel has been found, work can begin on analyzing the remains in order to determine how it might have sunk. Current theories regarding the cause of the accident range from technical issues such as a faulty rudder to an exploding missile or torpedo and even a collision with another vessel.
Taking to Twitter, Parly celebrated the find by saying: “We have just found La Minerve. It’s a success, a relief and a technical feat. I’m thinking of the families who have been waiting for this moment for so long.”