'After half an hour we knew there were no survivors'

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The Independent Online

Divers who took part in the failed rescue mission to the Kursk yesterday told of the moment they realised there could be no survivors.

Divers who took part in the failed rescue mission to the Kursk yesterday told of the moment they realised there could be no survivors.

British divers from the company Stolt Offshore, which provides divers for North Sea oil rigs, said it had been easier than expected reaching the submarine because conditions at depth were not as bad as the Russians had suggested. However, when they finally got to the vessel it was clear none of the crew would be left alive.

The diving team has left the scene of the wreck and returned to the Norwegian port of Kirkenes, where they must stay inside decompression chambers until Saturday.

Dive supervisor Mark Nankivell said: "When we arrived on the field and more information was coming through, we realised it wasn't so much a rescue mission as a fact-finding mission.

"We had already located the hatch we were interested in with an ROV remote-operated vehicle, but there was still great anticipation when we got the first diver in.

"We started hammering on the hatch to see if there was any sign of life. We had been given a tapping code by the Russians to follow.

"We spent quite a lot of time trying to make contact with what we were hoping were survivors, but after half an hour or so we realised there were no survivors."

When the hatch was opened, a large bubble of toxic carbon monoxide gas emerged, confirming the divers' belief that there was no chance of any life on board.

The divers said Russian reports of strong undersea currents and poor visibility had led them to expect a difficult job reaching the hatch, but that in the event, conditions had not been bad.

Speaking from a decompression chamber on board the ship Seaway Eagle, Norwegian diver Jon Are Hvalbye said: "It was a normal working environment. There were no problems in opening the hatch. It went fine. The whole operation went as planned, but it was faster than we expected."

Speaking from inside the chamber in Kirkenes, British diver Tony Scott said: "Everybody came here thinking there was a possibility someone would still be alive.

"There are no heroes here. We just came here because that is what we do. If we could have saved somebody it would have been brilliant, but unfortunately it didn't turn out that way."

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