Local News

Rescue Workers Race Against Time To Save Crew of Sunken Sub

Posted August 14, 2000

— A rescue effort is under way to save more than 100 crewmembers stuck in the sunken Russian submarine, Kursk. The bad weather broke earlier Tuesday afternoon giving rescue crews a chance.

The sub is in about 350 feet of water in the Barents Sea. There is still no word on whether the rescue capsule has reached the sub.

Doug Littlejohns commanded a British nuclear submarine before heading Tom Clancy'sRed Storm Entertainment. According to Littlejohns, Russian sailors on the surface face tough problems trying a rescue.

"It'll be very cold," Littlejohns says. "The air will be getting very thick. Carbon dioxide builds up which leads to headaches and nausea sickness."

"The submarine, as we understand it, is (tipped) over at least 60 degrees," he says.

Rescuers are trying to clamp a sphere or diving bell to the sub which sailors would ride to the surface.

"My understanding is that unless they can, in some way, bring the submarine more vertical, then those clamping devices won't operate," he says.

Escape from 350 feet down could be performed with a Deep Submersible Rescue Vehicle (DSRV). The U.S. and British navies have them, but the Russians do not. Swimming up can be done at shallower depths.

"Take a deep breath, obviously, then float up to the surface with some kind of life jacket," he says. "You breathe out all the way, and it's beyond the limit of what people have really tested."

The extreme angle of the boat on the bottom would likely prevent that risky attempt.

There is no word on the number of survivors; however, an explosion in a torpedo tube is the likely cause of the disaster.

"Depending on the fuel of the torpedo or the battery or some kind of other fuel, if that explodes, that would blow the large part of the front end off the boat," he says.

Littlejohns says he is concerned that both of the big submarine's nuclear reactors shut down or were shut down. Without them, there is no electricity, and the batteries may be flat or damaged.

Apparently, the ballast cannot be blown to let the 14,000-ton boat float to the surface -- a very dire situation, one that has captured the attention of the world.

The United States has dealt with similar submarine emergencies, but none in recent years.

In 1936, 33 people were saved when theUSS Squaluswent down off in a test dive in theIsle of Shoals-- a group of islands between New Hampshire and Maine.

Rescue efforts were not so lucky in the 1960s. The Thresher and Scorpion, both nuclear submarines, were lost at sea. Combined, more than 200 crewmembers died.

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