Note found in Russian sub says 23 sailors initially survived Kursk blast - October 26, 2000
MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia's navy chief says at least 23 sailors on board the Russian submarine Kursk remained alive after explosions killed the rest of the crew, according to a letter found by divers.
The note found in the pocket of a seaman is the first sign that anyone survived the initial blasts that tore apart the submarine and sunk it in the Barents Sea.
The letter does not elaborate on the cause of the catastrophe that killed all 118 men on board the submarine on August 12.
Russian Navy chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov told families gathered in the northern Russian port of Murmansk that the note was found on a sailor identified as Lt. D.R. Kolesnikov.
"All the crew from the sixth, seventh and eighth compartments went over to the ninth. There are 23 people here. We made this decision as a result of the accident. None of us can get to the surface," Kuroyedov quoted the note as saying.
The time 13.15 was written on the note, but no day or date was indicated.
Foreign and Russian ships in the area registered two powerful explosions in the area around 11.30 a.m. local time on August 12.
The ninth compartment is where the emergency escape hatch is located. After the Kursk sank, Russian submarines were unable to latch onto the hatch, but Norwegian divers who followed managed to open it a week after the tragedy -- and determined that there were no survivors.
The note went on to mention the figures 13 and five, without explanation, and then added: "I am writing blindly," Kuroyedov said.
Many Russian officials had said that some crew members could have remained alive after the disaster, as indicated by reports of tapping sounds detected from the submarine in the first days.
Others discounted the reports as unsubstantiated and said the sounds could have been caused by collapsing equipment or the submarine settling into the seabed.
The survivors of the initial explosions probably died of drowning, hypothermia or high pressure. Kolesnikov was the only seaman to have been identified so far, Kuroyedov said.
Russian and Norwegian divers recovered the first bodies after five days of painstaking work to cut holes in the top of the submarine. Kuroyedov said that after the note was discovered, the divers were concentrating on searching for bodies in the ninth compartment.
The complex underwater operation is being performed with robots and mechanical arms. Divers have used an instrument that sprays pressurised water mixed with diamond dust to cut the Kursk's two-inch-thick inner steel hull.
Officials say that up to two-thirds of the crew were probably blown to bits by powerful explosions in the weapons room in the submarine's bow.
Kuroyedov had warned that he might cancel the recovery effort if experts ruled that divers' lives were in danger. Two widows of the Kursk crew members visited the Regalia on Wednesday and, on behalf of all the families, pleaded with the divers not to take excessive risks.
But President Vladimir Putin promised at an emotional meeting with the crew's relatives shortly after the disaster to recover the bodies, and the government seemed bent on conducting the costly effort despite the shortage of funds for the military.
Some Russian media have pointed out that by stubbornly conducting the risky effort, the government wants to vindicate its confused response to the sinking of the Kursk, when it resisted international help for days while botching its own rescue efforts.
The cause of the disaster remains unknown, with authorities pointing at a collision with a Western submarine, World War II-era mine or an internal malfunction as possible reasons.