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Archive for Saturday, November 10, 2001

Sub tragedy a ‘hellish’ mystery still

November 10, 2001

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— A month after the charred, mangled Kursk nuclear submarine was hoisted from an Arctic seabed, investigators still cannot pinpoint the cause of the catastrophe but say new evidence shows the crew struggled for life, donning oxygen masks and unrolling fire hoses to fight a blaze that reached more than 14,000 degrees.

The submarine's hulk was hoisted Oct. 8 from the Barents Sea floor and brought to a dry dock near Murmansk more than a year after it exploded and sank during naval maneuvers, killing all 118 aboard. Investigators have pulled 56 bodies from the vessel since it was raised. Twelve others were removed by divers last year.

Investigators discovered more bodies in the stern sections than expected, indicating some sailors from the forward compartments managed to race backward in the two minutes and 15 seconds that separated two blasts that crippled and sank the Kursk.

Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov said the second explosion sent a huge fireball through the Kursk's hull, raising the temperature inside to 14,432 degrees and pulverizing all crew in the forward sections.

"What happened inside these compartments was hell," Ustinov said.

At least 23 sailors survived the explosions, according to letters found in the wreck, which described their agony in the pitch-dark, near-freezing sections of the stricken craft.

Investigators who retrieved the bodies said some seamen put on oxygen masks and unfolded fire hoses in a desperate attempt to fight the blaze.

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