Old Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowJohnson's Russia List title and scenes of Saint Petersburg
Excerpts from the JRL E-Mail Community :: Founded and Edited by David Johnson

Russian probe chief describes crew's hell on Kursk
By Natalya Andreassen

MURMANSK, Russia, Oct 27 - Russia's top prosecutor described the hellish inferno, toxic gas and flooding that killed the 118 crew of the Kursk submarine, as forensic experts recovered more bodies from the wreck on Saturday. Nineteen bodies have been retrieved from the wreck of the nuclear-powered submarine since it was brought to dry dock this month after an unprecedented salvage mission.

The Kursk sank in the northern Barents Sea 14 months ago after two unexplained explosions tore a hole in its bow section.

The resulting fire took temperatures on board to thousands of degrees Celsius, said Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov, who is overseeing the forensic investigation.

Television pictures showed Ustinov standing next to a mass of rusting, twisted metal and debris on a deck inside the Kursk, describing how the blasts tore a gaping hole in the vessel and two-thirds of the equipment that was once there.

"What was going on in the compartments was hell, a hell which you can only try to imagine," he said in the film, part of an openness policy at odds with the secrecy that first surrounded the disaster.

He said 135 seconds elapsed between the two fatal blasts.

"During that time there was not enough time (for the crew) to put on their emergency escape suits. But even if they had managed to put them on, they had no chance of surviving because there was an explosion and a fire," he said.


Most victims in the boat's rear-most compartment died from carbon monoxide poisoning, and the Kursk was entirely flooded six or seven hours after the blasts, eight at most, he said.

Twenty-three crew fled to the stern of the Kursk where one officer, Dmitry Kolesnikov, wrote a poignant farewell note to his young bride. It was found on his corpse which was removed from the submarine last year along with 11 others.

It provided the first proof that some crew had initially survived, and increased anger at the failure to rescue them.

Officials first said some crew members had been heard tapping messages on the hull, but later withdrew the remarks.

Ustinov said the crew were doomed from the start: "I want to say to those who think there was a chance of saving our sailors, there was no such chance."

The loss of the Kursk in August 2000 stunned Russia, and President Vladimir Putin was pilloried for failing to end his summer holidays to take control of the rescue bid. He later vowed to recover the vessel so the crew could be buried.


Compartments containing the Kursk's two nuclear reactors are to be drained, but Ustinov said they had escaped damage due to their robust design.

Witnesses meanwhile said special trucks arrived in Murmansk on Saturday to remove the Kursk's 22 cruise missiles. Safety fears meant one would be removed with its pod, which is flooded.

Russian newspapers said forensic experts had received special psychological training to help them cope with the ghoulish spectacle that awaited them. Too upset, some had already been replaced, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported.

Ustinov said the wreck would only give an 80 percent explanation of what caused the blasts that sank one of Russia's most modern submarines.

The heavily damaged bow section was sawn off before the bulk was lifted from the Barents Sea bed. The bow is due to be raised next year.

Back to the Top    Next Article