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Argentina says flares seen are unlikely to be from submarine

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Argentina says flares seen are unlikely to be from submarine

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WATCH Rescue crews face false leads in search for missing submarine

A U.S. aircraft searching for a missing Argentine submarine with 44 crew members spotted white flares, but they were unlikely to be from the sub lost for six days in the South Atlantic, the Argentine navy said Tuesday.

The ARA San Juan carried red and green flares, but authorities would still try to identify the origin of the white signals, navy spokesman Enrique Balbi told reporters.

He also said a life raft that was found in the search area early Tuesday did belong to the submarine and likely fell off another vessel.

"We're evaluating where the flares came from. For now, based on the color, they don't belong to the submarine," Balbi said. "It's quite common that ships pass by that area and also common that with the waves and the rocking, they can lose a raft."

The San Juan was last heard from last Wednesday as it journeyed from the extreme southern port of Ushuaia to the coastal city of Mar del Plata. More than a dozen international vessels and aircraft have joined in a maritime search that has become a race against the clock.

The sub carried enough food, oxygen and fuel for the crew to survive about 90 days on the sea's surface. But it had only enough oxygen to last seven days if submerged.

"In the worst-case scenario, in the critical phase, where it could not come to the surface by its own means or renew its air and oxygen, we'd be in the sixth day of oxygen," Balbi said.

An Argentine navy official previously said the submarine reported a battery failure last Wednesday and was returning to the Mar del Plata Navy Base when it went missing

Weather conditions that have hindered the search were expected to improve, helping search teams comb a wider area, Balbi said.

The U.S. Navy has sent its Undersea Rescue Command to Argentina to support the search for the submarine. The command includes a remotely operated vehicle and vessels that are capable of rescuing people from bottomed submarines.

The crew members aboard the San Juan include Argentina's first female submarine officer.

The sub was originally scheduled to arrive Monday at the navy's base in Mar del Plata, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) southeast of Buenos Aires. Relatives of the crew have gathered at the base to receive psychological counseling and wait for news about their loved ones.

Some local residents gathered outside the base to pray Tuesday, gripping rosary beads and religious statuettes. Others hung pictures of the crew on a fence, where children from a local school had placed drawings and messages of support for the families of the missing sailors.

"We know that we have to give all our sustenance to the 44, all the guys and the one girl aboard," said resident Patricia Coria.

Hopes were buoyed after brief satellite calls were received and when sounds were detected deep in the South Atlantic. But experts later determined that neither was from the missing sub.

"We have to continue to support those that are on the missing submarine as well as the families that are here, and make sure that they know that we believe that (the missing crew) will be found," said local resident Carolina Corbalan. "They're going to be here soon."

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Associated Press video journalist Paul Byrne in Mar del Plata, Argentina, contributed to this report.

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