Rush to raise stricken sub

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Russia is racing Saturday to rescue seven sailors trapped in a mini-submarine far below the Pacific Ocean. The Russian navy is attempting to either sever a cable which became tangled in the sub’s propeller on Thursday, or blow up a heavy weight anchoring it, according to Russia’s Pacific fleet commander, Admiral Viktor Fyodorov.

Exactly how much of their dwindling oxygen supply remains is unknown, but a top Navy official on Saturday said the supply should last until the end of the rescue.

U.S. and British planes carrying robotic undersea vehicles, meanwhile, landed in Russia’s Far East on Saturday to help with the rescue effort.

Authorities plan to use unmanned American and British specialized underwater craft, called Super Scorpios, to investigate the accident site and possibly cut the sub loose from the cable that has held it some 625 feet below the surface since Thursday.

The U.S. submersible has specialized equipment like arm-like manipulators with cable-cutters and cameras for navigation.

The Russian mini-submarine launched from a ship Thursday as part of a combat training exercise in the Pacific Ocean off Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula.

It got caught on an underwater antenna assembly that’s part of Russia’s coastal monitoring system. News reports say the antenna system is anchored with a weight of about 60 tons.

The 180-metre depth is too deep for divers to go down to the sub, or for the trapped sailors – who are reportedly otherwise in “satisfactory” condition despite low temperatures of 5 to 7 degrees Celsius – to swim up.

Navy officials have given various estimates of the air supply, with some saying it could last until Monday. Rear Admiral Vladimir Pepelyayev, deputy head of the navy’s general staff, said Saturday that the air would likely last to the end of the day and possibly through Sunday.

“I think it should be enough to last to the end of the (rescue) operation,” he said.

The accident occurred almost exactly five years after the nuclear submarine Kursk sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea after explosions on board. All 118 seamen on board died.

At that time, Russian President Vladimir Putin was severely criticized for not quickly asking for international help.

By late Friday night, Putin had made no public comment about the current sub crisis. CTV’s Murray Oliver said that with Russia unable to afford the upkeep of its once-mighty military, “experts say those vessels still in service are becoming underwater coffins for their hapless crews.”

Source: CTV.ca News Staff