Body search starts on Kursk

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The Independent Online

A deep sea diver entered the hull of the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk today, but could move only about 15ft in his bulky suit before being stopped by a narrow passageway.

A deep sea diver entered the hull of the sunken nuclear submarine Kursk today, but could move only about 15ft in his bulky suit before being stopped by a narrow passageway.

No remains of the crew were immediately found, according to the report by the ITAR-Tass news agency, which cited Russian Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov.

A spokesman for Halliburton, the Norway-based oil services company leading the effort to recover the crew's remains, did not immediately confirm the report.

The divers are getting the first close-up look at the interior of the stricken submarine since it sank after a massive explosion on August 12.

It took a team of divers five days to cut one hole through the Kursk's thick steel double hull, 108 metres below the surface in the cold waters of the Barents Sea.

Divers used a stream of pressurized water mixed with diamond dust to slice through a five-centimeter thick steel plate.

The recovery team lowered remote-controlled video cameras through the hole first to inspect the eighth compartment in the sub's stern, and pumped out silt to improve visibility, said Captain Vladimir Navrotsky, Russia's Northern Fleet spokesman.

The divers also smoothed the jagged edge of the 1-metre-wide hole with a special cushion for safe entrance into the wreck, he said.

The divers must contend with darkness, currents, floating debris and confined spaces.

The head of the Russian Navy, Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, had earlier warned that he might cancel the recovery effort because of the danger of divers ripping their pressure suits or cutting their air hoses on mangled equipment and debris. Kuroyedov flew to a Russian naval vessel at the scene today.

He was accompanied by two widows of Kursk crew members, who brought flowers to cast into the water and home-baked pies to give the divers, the Interfax news agency reported.

Only the Russian divers will enter the Kursk, while their foreign colleagues will assist from inside a diving bell lowered to the Kursk from the divers' mother-ship, the Regalia.

To cut their way into the sub, divers had to wrestle with a layer of industrial rubber between the outer and inner hulls, and used a robotic arm to sever pipes and wires obstructing their work.

The divers hope to pull bodies or body parts out into the ocean, then bring them to the surface to return to their families for burial.

Russian naval officials said they only hope to recover about one-third of the 118 seamen's bodies, the rest likely destroyed by the powerful explosions that ripped through the submarine.

The cause of the accident has not been officially established.

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