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Indonesian submarine: What happened to crew, internal wave, other theories

A frightening invisible natural force is believed to have dragged an Indonesian submarine deep into Balinese waters last week. A frightening invisible natural force is believed to have dragged an Indonesian submarine deep into Balinese waters last week.

The KRI Nanggala 402 lost contact after it submerged during a routine training exercise in the Bali Sea last Wednesday. After a frantic five-day search, the attacking vessel was found by rescuers cracked apart on the sea bed at a depth of 838m. All 53 crew members had died. After objects from inside the submarine were found during the search, questions arose over how the human-crewed torpedo could disappear quickly.

How did the KRI Nanggala 402 disappear?

Officials from the Indonesian military now suspect the submarine was hit by an internal solitary wave, a powerful force generated when a volume of water is pushed through a relatively more little passageway.

Officials said the density of waters off the coast of Bali and in the nearby Lombok Strait likely triggered a “massive moment” of force, with enough downward momentum to suck the submarine downwards within moments, according to Nikkei Asia.

What are internal waves?

Internal solitary waves are powerful, hard to detect currents that cause a significant threat to submarines and can put considerable stress on offshore oil rigs.

Satellite imagery captured by NASA in 2016 shows an internal solitary wave off the Lombok Strait.

The space agency explained internal waves occur when the “interface between layers is disturbed, such as when tidal flow passes over rough ocean floors, ridges, or other obstacles”.

Because the Lombok Strait is a relatively narrow passage between the Pacific and Indian Oceans, the tides develop a “complex rhythm” but “tend to combine about every 14 days to create a solid tidal flow”. The combination of ocean topography, solid currents, and moving water between the two oceans makes the area famous for its intensive internal waves. The waves are difficult to photograph and cause only minor ripples on the sea’s surface, despite their potential to create a solid underwater drag.

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