Diver enters sunken Russian submarine

Wednesday, October 25th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MURMANSK, Russia (AP) _ Deep-sea divers entered the hull of the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk on Wednesday and found the bodies of three of the 118 victims, a Russian navy official said.

The bodies were found several hours after a team of Norwegian and Russian divers succeeded in cutting the first hole in the thick hull of the submarine on the bottom of the Barents Sea, Northern Fleet Chief of Staff Mikhail Motsak said on state-run RTR television.

The bodies were removed from the hull in preparation for bringing them to the surface, Motsak said.

The divers are getting the first close-up look at the interior of the stricken submarine since it sank after a massive explosion on Aug. 12.

It took a team of divers five days to cut one hole through the Kursk's thick steel double hull, 356 feet below the surface in the cold waters of the Barents Sea. Divers used a stream of pressurized water mixed with diamond dust to slice through a 2 1/2-inch-thick steel plate.

The recovery team lowered remote-controlled video cameras through the hole first to inspect the eighth compartment in the submarine's stern, and pumped out silt to improve visibility, said Northern Fleet spokesman Vladimir Navrotsky.

The divers also smoothed the jagged edge of the 3-foot-wide hole with a special cushion for safe entrance into the wreck, he said.

The divers must contend with darkness, currents, floating debris and confined spaces. The head of the Russian Navy, Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov, had earlier warned that he might cancel the recovery effort because of the danger of divers ripping their pressure suits or cutting their air hoses on mangled equipment and debris.

Kuroyedov flew to a Russian naval vessel at the scene Wednesday. He was accompanied by two widows of Kursk crew members, who brought flowers to cast into the water and home-baked pies for the divers, the Interfax news agency reported.

Only Russian divers entered the Kursk. Their foreign colleagues were to assist from inside a diving bell lowered to the Kursk from the divers' mother ship, the Regalia.

To cut their way into the submarine, divers had to wrestle with a layer of industrial rubber between the outer and inner hulls, and used a robotic arm to sever pipes and wires obstructing their work.

The divers hope to pull bodies or body parts out into the ocean, then bring them to the surface to return to their families for burial.

Russian naval officials said they only hope to recover about one-third of the 118 seamen's bodies, the rest likely destroyed by the powerful explosions that ripped through the submarine. The cause of the accident has not been officially established.