- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

MOSCOW The mangled and charred interior of the Kursk was put on show over the weekend as the man leading the investigation into the nuclear submarine's sinking described its crew's last moments as "hell."
The first pictures of the inside of the vessel since it was brought to dry dock earlier this month revealed a scene unrecognizable as the deck of a modern warship.
Investigators who broke through the rusted hatches said they found themselves wading through decomposing bodies that had not stirred since the nuclear submarine buried them at the bottom of the Barents Sea.
Their task is to determine what caused the disaster something they cannot begin before 106 bodies still on board have been removed and relatives contacted.
As of yesterday, 32 bodies had been recovered and the first coffins had arrived for burial in the Russian city which gave the vessel its name.
Two explosions ripped through the submarine, once the pride of Russia's northern fleet, while it was taking part in an exercise in August last year. The ensuing fire reached 14,000 degrees Fahrenheit, reducing much of the interior to twisted, blackened metal.
"What was going on in the compartments was hell a hell which you can only try to imagine," said Vladimir Ustinov, Russia's prosecutor general.
"I want to say to those who think there was a chance of saving our sailors: There was no such chance."
Anyone who survived the blasts and the fire would have died from carbon monoxide poisoning, he said. Within eight hours, the entire submarine was flooded.
While rescue workers have started to make safe the Kursk's Granit ballistic missiles, investigators working alongside them on the wreck are still trying to establish the cause of the disaster.
After checking radiation levels and pumping out the last of the water, inspectors entered near the stern on Friday and began the gruesome task of removing the bodies still on board. Twelve of the 118 crew members were taken off by divers shortly after it went down.
In the pocket of one of the bodies, Lt. Dmitriy Kolesnikov, divers found a farewell note to his wife that he had scribbled in the dark.
Mr. Ustinov, whose team of inspectors dived into the wreck wearing special protection suits fitted with oxygen tanks, said the scene inside "defied description." The first three compartments of the sub had been turned into a twisted mass of metal, littered with debris, he said.
Removing the Kursk's 22 long-range cruise missiles will be the most dangerous part of the operation. The missiles are stored in the sections near the bow where the explosions occurred, and they are still live. More than 30 feet long, each weighs just under 7 tons with a 1-ton warhead.
The Kursk's nuclear reactor also caused military experts concern. Although the reactor should have shut down automatically following the accident, the salvage team began its work by checking radiation levels; these appear to be normal.
In an attempt not to disturb the positions of bodies and loose equipment both might provide vital clues to the cause of the accident the water was pumped out very slowly.
Russia's military has stubbornly refused to admit incompetence or say that the Kursk's end was as result of an accident. They blame a collision with a "foreign" sub.
NATO and other Western military authorities have said none of their submarines was in the area at the time.


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