Date: Thursday, October 25,
2001 10:44:21 AM
By VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV, Associated
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
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
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
try to raise its fragments next year.