Balloonist called in for salvage operation

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The Independent Online

As the effort to rescue the crew of the Kursk turned into a salvage operation yesterday, Per Lindstrand, who piloted and designed the balloon in which Sir Richard Branson made his third attempt to circle the world, said he had been asked to help raise the submarine.

As the effort to rescue the crew of the Kursk turned into a salvage operation yesterday, Per Lindstrand, who piloted and designed the balloon in which Sir Richard Branson made his third attempt to circle the world, said he had been asked to help raise the submarine.

His expertise in balloon design would be used to create flotation devices to lift the 14,000-tonne nuclear-powered submarine to the surface before its reactors break down and release their radioactivity into the sea. The Swedish-born head of Lindstrand Balloons in Oswestry, Shropshire, said he was contacted last Thursdayby a Murmansk-based salvage firm, Ruben, and was waiting yesterday for confirmation ofthe order, which could cost £5m to £10m.

Several firms are believed to have been approached to suggest means of raising the submarine, whose 118 sailors are now confirmed to have died.

The plan Mr Lindstrand is working on would require divers to attach about 20 balloons, made from a high-strength fibre called Vectran, to the vessel's hull. Those would be inflated with air or nitrogen to lift the wreck to the surface of the Barents Sea.

Mr Lindstrand said meeting the four-week deadline before the Arctic winter begins to set in would require round-the-clock work. He would supervise the salvage mission itself, which could take weeks.

Mr Lindstrand said: "Obviously, this is a very complex operation because of the way the Kursk is sitting on the sea-bed and because of the nuclear factor. We have tested this equipment on trial models of submarines and although we have done nothing on thisbig a scale, we are confident it will work."

The Russian Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said Moscow would make an international appeal for funds to raise the Kursk because of the enormous expense.

He suggested it could take weeks just to draw up the plans for the salvage. "Not a single country on its own can handle such an operation," he said.

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