Investigators today revealed the ‘‘hell’’ inside the nuclear submarine Kursk which sank in the Barents Sea with the loss of 118 lives.
Charred and rusting cavities littered with pieces of twisted and torn metal are all that remains of the compartments where the submarine’s commanders and most of the crew once were.
‘‘What happened inside these compartments was hell,’’ said Russia’s Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov as he presented a seven-minute documentary filmed by investigators inside the Kursk, now in a dry dock at the northern Roslyakovo port.
‘‘The explosion ... wiped out everything here,’’ Ustinov said in the documentary, shown on Russian television channels. The film went on to show the place where the Kursk’s periscope once stood and which now resembles a surreal twisted column of metal.
‘‘Everything is littered with equipment that was destroyed in the explosion,’’ Ustinov said. ‘‘The strong alloys from which these compartments are built were simply ripped apart.’’
The Kursk’s commanders and most of the crew in the front compartments were killed as two blasts 135 seconds apart sent the mighty submarine to the sea bottom, Ustinov said.
A fire that spread rapidly after the explosions raised temperature inside the Kursk to 800C, he said at a separate news conference in the northern port of Murmansk.
Ustinov said 19 bodies have been found over the past three days inside the Kursk’s wreckage, and 17 had been removed. Seven of them have already been identified, he said.
Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, the Russian Navy’s commander, said that at the request of relatives, the bodies will be transported to their home towns, and a farewell ceremony for them ‘‘will be conducted with full military honours’’ the Interfax news agency reported.
Most of the Kursk’s 118 sailors were killed by the powerful explosions that sank the submarine during naval exercises in August 2000, but at least 23 survived the disaster for hours in the stern compartments, according to letters found by divers who recovered 12 bodies from the sunken vessel a year ago.
‘‘We are finding the bodies of the dead, and the main cause of death is suffocation,’’ Ustinov said.
Ustinov, who leads the team of investigators, said experts believe the submarine was completely flooded within six to eight hours.
The sailors who did not die in the explosions began feeling the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning within 90 minutes.
The first note by one sailor ‘‘is written in a steady, beautiful hand, and in a second note written an hour and a half later you can see it’s difficult for him to write. This confirms that water and carbon monoxide began filling the 9th (stern) compartment,’’ said Ustinov.
‘‘Those who think there was a possibility to save our sailors should know that there was no such possibility,’’ he added.
Despite the force of the explosions, the reactor compartment withstood the blasts and was only flooded by water coming from ventilation and other openings, he said.
Kuroyedov said the operation to fully disarm the submarine of its 22 Granit cruise missiles will begin next week.
‘‘At the moment, intensive preparations for unloading the missiles are under way,’’ he said.
The bulk of the Kursk was raised from the Barents Sea floor on October 8 in a 65 million dollar salvage operation performed by the Dutch consortium Mammoet-Smit International.
The mangled forward compartment, where the Kursk’s torpedoes were located, was left on the bottom of the sea out of concern that it could break off and destabilise the lifting operation.
The cause of the disaster remains unknown, though Russian officials have focused on a torpedo that possibly misfired and exploded inside or near the Kursk during the exercise.
Other versions include a collision with a Second World War mine or another vessel, and there even has been speculation that the Kursk was hit by a missile fired by the nuclear cruiser Peter the Great.
Kuroyedov said the later version was ‘‘absurd’’ and rejected a year ago, and promised that nothing will remain concealed.
‘‘We will benefit from telling the truth more than anybody else,’’ he said.