The storm set in suddenly, darkening the midmorning sky. Winds reached 100 kilometres an hour. Waves towered over the refitted fishing trawler, with swells as high as eight metres.
The eight people aboard the Polar Mist radioed for help, then donned survival wet suits and flung themselves into the frigid waters. In a daring operation, rescuers dangling from a helicopter harnessed the survivors and pulled them to safety.
Two days later, a Chilean tugboat caught up with the abandoned trawler. But as it was being tugged to dry land, the Polar Mist unexpectedly sank 40 kilometres off the Argentine coast, near the mouth of the Straits of Magellan, on Jan. 18.
The owners of its cargo say nearly $22 million US in unrefined gold and silver went down with it, and they're asking insurer Lloyd's of London to foot the bill for the costly recovery operation.
But Argentine news media and maritime experts are asking whether the precious metals were aboard at all.
They ask why the crew members ditched the craft when it would have been safer to stay aboard, why they left the engine on full so the ship was left spinning in circles, and why a trawler built in 1979 was being used to transport gold and silver in the first place.