31 years later, Israel mourns lost sub

U.S. team finds vessel that vanished mysteriously on maiden voyage in '68

May 31, 1999|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

JERUSALEM -- For three decades, a missing submarine has haunted Israel. Accustomed to bloody battle and gruesome terrorism, the country was lastingly unsettled by the quiet tragedy of an unresolved mystery.

One January night in 1968, the Dakar, a British submarine newly refurbished for the Israeli navy, disappeared on its maiden voyage, from England to Haifa. A 69-man crew vanished with it, lost without a trace in a maritime enigma that became a legendary part of Israeli history.

On Friday, the wreck of the Dakar was found 9,500 feet beneath the Mediterranean Sea, between Crete and Cyprus. On Saturday night, the Israeli navy confirmed the findings of a joint Israeli-American search team. Underwater photographs taken by an aquatic robot proved that the hull belonged to the Dakar.

"It was more exciting to find than the Titanic because to me the Titanic is just a shipwreck," Thomas Dettweiler, who led the search teams for both vessels, told Agence France-Presse aboard his boat. "With the Titanic, most people have died who had any connection with it, but with the Dakar it's still living."

Yesterday, 31 years after the ship was lost at sea, Israel officially went into mourning. Newspapers printed pictures of each downed naval crewman and officer, pictures frozen in time. Israel Radio played somber music, and, repeatedly, a recording of the final transmission from the ship -- a musical tribute to the ship sung by its new crew.

In a disturbing coda to the Dakar saga, a former navy commander, Adm. Michael Barkai, killed himself hours after hearing that the submarine had been found. His brother, Maj. Avraham Barkai, had been the ship's deputy commander.

The World War II-era submarine, purchased from the British, had been refurbished and proudly inaugurated before an Israeli crew set out from Portsmouth, England, in January 1968. It disappeared without any distress call.

Earlier this year, American Nauticus Corp., which discovered the remains of the Titanic, was hired by Israel to use its advanced technology to sweep the ocean floor. With sonar gear and robot-guided deep-sea cameras, the Dakar was found about 300 miles west of Israel -- precisely on its original course.

An initial examination of the submarine suggested that it sank because of a technical malfunction, human error or a collision.

Pub Date: 5/31/99

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