Russian sailors rescued from submarine

SEVEN Russians were rescued yesterday after spending three days trapped in a submarine under the Pacific Ocean.

A British remote-controlled vehicle cut away undersea cables that had snarled their vessel, allowing it to surface.

Russian naval spokesman, Captain Igor Dygalo, said the seven, whose oxygen supplies had been dwindling, appeared to be in satisfactory condition when they emerged. They were examined on a naval ship, then transferred to a larger vessel for return to the mainland.

About five hours after their rescue, six were brought to a hospital; the seventh was kept aboard a hospital ship for unspecified reasons.

The sub's commander, Lietenant Vyacheslav Milashevsky, was pale and appeared overwhelmed when he got ashore. He said he was "fine", before leaving for hospital.

His wife, Yelena, said she was overjoyed when she learned the crew had been rescued.

"My feelings danced. I was happy. I cried," she said.

The sub surfaced at 4.26pm local time (4.26am Irish time), after a series of failed attempts to drag it closer to shore or haul it closer to the surface. It was carrying six sailors and a member of the company that built it.

Admiral Vladimir Pepelyayev, deputy head of the navy general staff, said: "The crew opened the hatch themselves, exited the vessel and climbed aboard a speedboat.

"I can only thank our English colleagues for their joint work and the help they gave in order to complete this operation within the time we had available - that is, before the oxygen reserves ran out."

The men aboard the mini-sub waited out tense hours of uncertainty as rescuers raced to free them. They put on thermal suits to insulate them against temperatures of about four degrees Celsius, and were told to lie flat and breathe as lightly as possible to conserve oxygen.

To save electricity, they turned off the submarine's lights and only contacted the surface sporadically.

Admiral Pepelyayev said: "The crew were steadfast, very professional. Their self-possession allowed them to conserve the air and wait for the rescue operation."

In an echo of the Kursk sinking, Russian President Vladimir Putin made no public comment during the mini-sub drama. Mr Putin remained on vacation as the Kursk disaster unfolded, raising criticism that he appeared either callous or ineffectual.

But in sharp contrast to the Kursk disaster, when authorities held off asking for help until hope was nearly exhausted, Russian military officials quickly made an urgent appeal for help from US and British authorities. All 118 people on board the Kursk died, some surviving for hours as oxygen ran out.

As US and British crews headed for the trapped sub, Russian officials considered various ways of freeing it.

Ships tried to tow the sub to shallower water where divers could reach it, but were able to move it only about 60-100 yards.

By Sunday afternoon, a British remote-controlled Super Scorpio cut the cables that had snarled the 44-foot submarine and it came to the surface on its own.

Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who went to Kamchatka to supervise the operation, praised the international efforts.

"We have seen in deeds, not in words, what the brotherhood of the sea means."

Officials said the sub was participating in a combat training exercise and got snarled on an underwater antenna assembly that is part of a coastal monitoring system.

Russia's cash-strapped navy apparently lacks rescue vehicles capable of operating at the depth where the sub was stranded. Officials say it was too deep for divers to reach or the crew to swim out on their own.

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