SCMP Friday, August 18, 2000

Hope fades for submarine crew


Rescue efforts on Friday to find any survivors on a shattered submarine looked increasingly hopeless after Russian officials said the crew probably had no time to escape a ''catastrophe that developed at lightning speed''.

The pessimistic assessments came after a film of the crippled Kursk showed massive damage reaching from the bow to the conning tower, which was much more extensive than earlier thought.

Navy officials said there was no sign of life on Friday among the 118 men aboard the wreck of the nuclear submarine trapped 108m below the surface of the Barents Sea.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov, the head of a government commission that reviewed the rescue effort on Thursday, said there was a ''terrifying hole'' on the starboard side of the submarine.

''A rather big part of the crew was in the part of the boat that was hit by the catastrophe that developed at lightning speed,'' Mr Klebanov said in Murmansk, home of the Russian Northern Fleet.

''There have been no sounds for quite a long time'' from within the Kursk, he added.

Both Mr Klebanov and the Navy commander, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, have said that any survivors were expected to run out of oxygen on Friday, but other high-ranking naval officers have given them much longer. On Thursday, Mr Klebanov declined to say how much air could remain.

Meanwhile, oceanologist Alexander Podrazhansky, a veteran underwater craft pilot, said survivors could be poisoned by excessive carbonic acid in the air - which causes hallucinations and mental disorders - and experience a nervous breakdown after spending days in darkness, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.