The mystery of the sunken sub, the Danish inventor and the missing Swedish journalist

Peter Thompson, AFP | Kim Wall poses with Danish inventor Peter Madsen onboard the UC3 Nautilus in the Copenhagen harbour, on August 10, 2017

In a bizarre case that’s sparked comparisons with Scandinavian TV series “The Bridge”, police are investigating the disappearance of a Swedish journalist who went missing after she accompanied a Danish inventor in his amateur-built submarine.


Media on both sides of the Oresund Strait, which separates Sweden and Denmark, have been gripped by the story since it broke last week, with every emerging detail seeming to add a new twist to what actually happened during what appears to be a very ill-fated journey.

Danish inventor Peter Madsen and Swedish freelance journalist Kim Wall set out on their underwater travels in the Oresund Strait on Thursday evening. Wall, 30, was reportedly working on a feature story about Madsen whose 40-ton and nearly 18-metre-long UC3 Nautilus vessel claimed to be the largest privately built submarine when it was made in 2008.

But the submarine failed to make it back to shore. Early on Friday morning, Wall’s boyfriend alerted authorities about the missing sub – prompting a massive rescue operation to find the pair. The sub was then located near Koge, some 40 kilometres south of Copenhagen, from which Madsen was rescued shortly before the submarine took in water and sank.

Google maps | The red marker shows the Oresund strait, which separates Sweden and Denmark
Google maps | The red marker shows the Oresund strait, which separates Sweden and Denmark

Waving goodbye

Kristian Isbak, who took part in the rescue efforts, described how he had spotted Madsen waving from the tower of the submarine.

"He then climbed down inside the submarine and there was then some kind of air flow coming up and the submarine started to sink," he was quoted as telling The Associated Press at the weekend. "[He] came up again and stayed in the tower until water came into it".

Thirty-year-old Wall, however, remains missing. According to Swedish police, Wall has not been heard from since Thursday evening. She was last seen waving to friends from the submarine’s tower as she took off on her journey with Madsen.

Anders Valdsted, Scanpix Denmark, AFP | Kim Wall poses for photos onboard the UC3 Nautilus, on August 10, 2017 in the Copenhagen harbour
Anders Valdsted, Scanpix Denmark, AFP | Kim Wall poses for photos onboard the UC3 Nautilus, on August 10, 2017 in the Copenhagen harbour

Danish police say Madsen initally claimed he had dropped off the journalist near a restaurant on the Refshaleøen island late on Thursday night and that he then continued the journey alone, but that he later changed his story. Police have not publicly disclosed Madsen’s new version of events.

Jens Moller Jensen of the Copenhagen police said there are indications that Madsen deliberately sank his submarine.

Accepts pre-trial detention

Swedish inventor and submarine-maker Hakan Lans told Swedish tabloid Expressen that it's easy to sink a submarine. “Basically you just have to pull a plug. The sub then starts to take in water and sinks, pretty fast, all on its own. It doesn’t take much water for the vessel to sink.”

On Friday, Danish Prosecutor Louise Pedersen announced that the 46-year-old inventor had been arrested on suspicion of "having killed in an unknown way and in an unknown place Kim Isabel Fredrika Wall of Sweden".

On Saturday, Madsen was remanded in temporary custody for 24 days on preliminary charges of involontary manslaughter. He has denied any responsibility in Wall’s disappearance, but has chosen not to appeal his detention order.

“He accepts the detention, but denies any crime,” his defence lawyer Betina Hald Engmark told Danish broadcaster TV2.

Police puzzled by 15-hour journey

Madsen’s vessel was brought ashore and searched over the weekend, but investigators are yet to find any clues leading them to Wall’s whereabouts.

The submarine was reportedly equipped with a hybrid engine, meaning it can travel quite far and at fast speeds. It was not equipped with Automatic Identification System (AIS) tracking equipment, however, making it difficult for police to map out the exact route of Madsen’s and Wall’s journey.

“Everything is possible. We're not ruling out the possibility that she [Wall] has been brought [as far as] to [neighbouring] Germany for example,” Henrik Brix of the Copenhagen police was quoted as telling Expressen on Monday.

“Let’s say a potential body is believed to be in Germany, well in that case we would like to cooperate with German police. In the same way if she [Wall] is thought to be in Sweden, we would like to cooperate with Swedish police,” he said.

The UC3 Nautilus travelled for 15 hours before the Danish Navy located it – with only Madsen onboard – on Friday.

The mystery surrounding Wall’s disappearance has sparked some parallels with the Scandinavian crime television series “The Bridge” in which Swedish and Danish police cooperate to solve cross-border cases that involve both Nordic countries.

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