August 7, 2005 in Nation/World

Crew members recovering after Russian sub rescue

Vladimir Isachenkov Associated Press
Associated Press photo

A woman in St. Petersburg, Russia, lights a candle Saturday for the sailors who were trapped in a mini-submarine.
(Full-size photo)

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russia – Seven submarine crew members trapped for nearly three days under the Pacific Ocean were rescued today after a British remote-controlled vehicle cut away the undersea cables that had snarled the vessel.

The seven crew members, whose oxygen supplies had been dwindling amid underwater temperatures in the mid-40s, appeared to be in satisfactory condition, naval spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said.

The seven were being examined by ship medics, he said.

The sub surfaced late this afternoon, local time, some three days after becoming stranded in 600 feet of water off the Pacific Coast on Thursday.

“The rescue operation has ended,” Rear Adm. Vladimir Pepelyayev, deputy head of the navy’s general staff, said in televised comments.

Russian authorities had hoped that the British unmanned submersible could help free the sub and avoid losing a sub crew as they did with the Kursk nuclear submarine, which sank almost exactly five years ago, killing all 118 aboard.

In sharp contrast to the August 2000 Kursk disaster, when authorities held off asking for help until hope was nearly exhausted, Russian military officials quickly sought help from U.S. and British authorities.

Earlier today, a British remote-controlled Super Scorpio cut away the cables that had snarled the vessel in Beryozovaya Bay, about 10 miles off the east coast of the Kamchatka peninsula.

The United States also dispatched a crew and three underwater vehicles to Kamchatka, but they never left the port.

Officials said the Russian submarine was participating in a combat training exercise and got snarled on an underwater antenna assembly that is part of a coastal monitoring system.

The system is anchored with a weight of about 66 tons, according to news reports.

Russia’s cash-strapped navy apparently lacks rescue vehicles capable of operating at the depth where the sub was stranded, and officials say it was too deep for divers to reach or the crew to swim out on their own.

An earlier attempt to drag the vessel to shallower waters failed when cables detached after pulling it some 65 yards.

The submarine’s problems indicated that promises by President Vladimir Putin to improve the navy’s equipment apparently have had little effect.

He was criticized for his slow response to the Kursk crisis and reluctance to accept foreign assistance.

By early today, Putin had made no public comment on the latest sinking, but Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had traveled to the site of the rescue operation.

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