During the first hours of January 22nd 1949, a tragedy occurred on Argentinean waters. The ARA* Fournier shipwrecked through the frozen waters of the Magellan canal in front of the Cone Point, 60 miles south from Sand Point. There were no survivors and the factual story regarding the shipwreck has remained partially unknown to our days.
The Fournier was a ship mine detector, tracer, built in San Fernando, Buenos Aires during the early days of 1940 and by October 13th it was incorporated to the Navy's float. The company in charge of the construction was Sanchez & Company (Cia.). A big and impressive craft of 59 meters length, 7.30 wind sail and a displacement of 554 tons.
This craft was part of a float of modern tracers such as the Spiro, Seaver and Comodoro Py as well as an essential mean of communication within those southern Argentinean and Chilean Patagonian lands. News, relatives, boyfriends, sailors traveled on board of the Fournier back and forth. At the time of it's disappearance there were 78 people on board and non of them was ever seen with life again.
According to local registers the Fournier left the Ushuaia port heading to Rio Gallegos in a routine mission. Once in Rio Gallegos, the ship was to return to Ushuaia. Experts say there are two possible routes, the most direct one goes through the Le Maire Straight; the other runs through the Magellan Straight to St Gabriel's channel, then through the northwest arm of the Beagle Channel. This last one, though longer, is much more beautiful in terms of sight for it runs through the glaciers. It's also considered to be "more protected" from the southern storms.
According to the latest information the captain was aware of a possible storm heading to their location, therefore he took the Magellan route.
It was last seen leaving Rio Gallegos port at 7 40 AM on September 21st 1949. Latter on, while passing by Thin Point the craft contacted another Navy vessel. That was the last time the Fournier made any contact, for it wasn't even seen at St. Isidro Lighthouse.
Without any news from the craft for a couple of days other navy stations begin to worry about the Fournier's destiny and begin to search for the craft and it's crew. Both, the Argentinean and Chilean navy begin joint works in order to rescue the Fournier. Aware of the harsh weather and natural conditions all procedures had to be handled fast and efficiently in order to succeed.
As hours and days went by, hopes of finding survivors narrowed and the magnitude of the tragic event grew. Nontheless the search and rescue tasks kept on going. On the 28th, on an other joint procedure the Argentinean and Chilean airforces flew over the area the craft was supposed to have been sunk. Two Chilean pilots saw a big oil stain in the ocean. they had found the exact shipwreck location. The tragedy of the event was unquestionable.
However everybody hoped to find survivors on nearby canals. This never happened. No survivors were found. And even worst, many of the crew members began to appear on mainland's shores without life brought by tides; in nearby locations several emergency boats were found, but no one had survived.
The Navy doubled the efforts. That was all they could now do. But the results did not change. Just a few elements were to be found, lifesavers, pieces of boats, etc. All these elements are now in local Museums. Night and day Navy Vessels searched the canals using the latest radar technology and cartography available. But nothing was to change.
On October 12th, President Peron and his wife Evita, awaited at the Buenos Aires Port together with the widowers for the Heroine Frigate carrying the 78 coffins covered with the Argentinean flag. An unquestionable tragedy covered by a mystery we might never unveil.
*ARA,Armada Republica Argentina. http://bobfrassinetti.tripod.com/art-dealer/
- Bob Frassinetti.