- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russia — Seven crew members aboard a Russian mini-submarine trapped for three days beneath the Pacific Ocean were pulled to safety today after a British remote-controlled vehicle cut away the undersea cables that had snarled it, Russian naval officials said.

Naval spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said the crew appeared to be in satisfactory condition and were being examined by ship medics.

The sub was raised after becoming stranded in more than 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.

Capt. Dygalo told the Associated Press earlier that the Super Scorpio had freed the mini-sub from the military antenna that had tangled it some 625 feet below the surface.

With oxygen supplies dwindling after nearly three days underwater off the Kamchatka Peninsula, rescuers raced to bring the 44-foot-long AS-28 to the surface in Beryozovaya Bay, about 10 miles off Kamchatka’s east coast.

But a mechanical problem with the Super Scorpio forced workers to bring the rescue vehicle to the surface, delaying a process complicated by the discovery of a fishing net caught on the mini-sub, Interfax quoted another naval spokesman as saying.

“After the last cable holding down the mini-sub was cut off, rescuers found a piece of fishing net on the nose of the submersible,” Capt. Alexander Kosolapov was quoted as saying. “They were unable to take it off because the Scorpio had to be raised to the surface due to functioning problems.”

Russian ships had earlier managed to loop cables under the antenna that snared the ship on Thursday. It was not clear whether workers intended to raise the sub, or if the vessel would perform an emergency surfacing, rising rapidly to the surface.

Russian authorities have been hoping 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 five years ago, killing all 118 aboard.

Russian estimates of how long the air would last ranged from the end of yesterday until tomorrow.

The Russian navy made contact with the crew late yesterday, and Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Viktor Fyodorov said earlier that their condition was “satisfactory” despite temperatures of 41 to 45 degrees.

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.

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 is stranded, and officials say it is 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.

President Vladimir Putin, who was criticized for his slow response to the Kursk crisis and reluctance to accept foreign assistance, was quick to seek help this time.

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