By Maximiliano Rizzi
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - One of the 44 crew members on board the Argentine submarine that is missing in the South Atlantic is Eliana Maria Krawczyk, who came from a landlocked province to become the country's first female submarine officer.
In a Facebook video posted in January by the Defense Ministry, Krawczyk discussed her experience of being the first woman in a traditionally male space. She said that she aspired to become the commander of a navy submarine one day.
"If you think about being underwater, navigating, and being the only woman, it is strange, but at the same time it is exciting and very challenging," she said in the video. "Any woman that wants to can do it."
Krawczyk, 35, was born in the northeastern province of Misiones and joined the navy in 2004, after responding to an advertisement online. She rose to become the master-at-arms aboard the ARA San Juan, which went missing last week.
She graduated from Argentina's submarine and diving school in 2012 as the first female officer and always loved her job working at sea, according to her sister Silvina Krawczyk.
"It is like she was born for this," Silvina told Reuters. "She really likes to do what she does in the navy."
Hopes of discovering the ARA San Juan received a setback on Monday when the navy confirmed that failed satellite calls traced to the area on Saturday did not come from the submarine.
With rough seas and high winds hampering the search for the 34-year-old vessel, a navy spokesman said the German-built submarine had surfaced and reported an electrical problem before it disappeared 268 miles (432 km) off the coast.
"They are working very hard to find them," said Silvina Krawczyk who, like many relatives of the missing crew members, was camped out at a naval base in the coastal city of Mar del Plata, awaiting updates on the search and rescue mission.
"Besides just the faith one has to maintain in these situations, I truly trust that they are going to find them," Silvina said.
The pioneering submariner had been aboard the ARA San Juan - the newest of the three operated by the Argentine navy - when it made the same trip from Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world, to Mar del Plata last year without incident, her sister said.
The voyage normally takes around a week, but modest delays due to poor weather are not uncommon. The submarine left Ushuaia on Nov. 13.
"It is the first time that something like this has happened," said Silvina, who herself is a machinist in Argentina's Merchant Marines.
At the entrance to the Mar del Plata base, locals hung signs with messages in support of the crew members and their families on a chain-link fence. "Strength for Argentina. We trust in God. We are waiting for you," read one inscribed on a celestial blue-and-white Argentine flag hanging on the fence.
(Reporting by Maximiliano Rizzi; Writing by Luc Cohen; Editing by Alistair Bell)