Russian Navy Removes Crew Remains

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Date: Thursday, October 25, 2001 10:44:21 AM

By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated Press Writer

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian navy forensic experts began removing the remains of crewmen from the wreck of the Kursk (news - web sites) nuclear submarine Thursday, and authorities said the bodies found so far could be identified by sight after 14 months in their frigid underwater tomb.

The specialists removed three bodies from the rear of the submarine and saw others, said Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov, who is leading the team inspecting the disfigured wreck in a dry dock in Roslyakovo, near the Arctic
port of Murmansk. Ustinov said the bodies found so far could be identified by sight, meaning they were not badly damaged.

Russian officials say most of the Kursk's 118 sailors were killed quickly by powerful explosions that sank the submarine during naval exercises in August 2000. But at least 23 survived for hours in the stern compartments, according to letters found by divers who recovered 12 bodies from the sunken vessel a year ago.

Most of the Kursk was raised from the Barents Sea floor on Oct. 8 in an immaculate $65 million salvage operation performed by the Dutch Mammoet-Smit International consortium. Forensic experts rushed inside the vessel once it was dried out Thursday, moving quickly to remove bodies to avoid damaging
contact with the air.

After the remains are recovered, authorities say their next immediate task will be to secure the Kursk's two nuclear reactors and its 22 Granit cruise missiles, each containing enough explosives to sink an enemy aircraft carrier. Officials said Thursday that the reactors and the missile arsenal posed no danger.

Water samples taken from inside the compartment holding the reactors confirmed that there has been no radiation leak, said Russian Navy spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo.

The navy chief, Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov, said experts would enter the reactor compartment later Thursday to check its condition and make sure it is properly heated to keep it from freezing.

Kuroyedov said the tubes containing the missiles apparently escaped damage, which will allow navy experts to remove them with little trouble, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. Navy officials had previously said it might be necessary to cut the missiles out of the hull along with the tubes if there was any damage.

The navy has dismissed claims that the missiles could fire by themselves, saying the lack of electric power on board makes that impossible.

Investigators led by Ustinov continued inspecting the wreck, searching for clues to the cause of the disaster.

However, there are concerns that if any clue could be found, it would be in the submarine's first compartment, which was mangled by the explosions and left behind when the Kursk was raised. Russian officials have said they will
try to raise its fragments next year.