British team 'wish they could have helped'

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The Independent Online

The commander of the British miniature submarine team that hoped to save crewmen on the Kursksaid he was saddened that nothing could be done for the 118 victims.

The commander of the British miniature submarine team that hoped to save crewmen on the Kursksaid he was saddened that nothing could be done for the 118 victims.

"That is the feeling of the entire crew," said Commodore David Russell. "Our mission was to help the Russians save lives, but I think it proved to be beyond everyone's capabilities." The British team and their LR5 submarine, designed for such rescues, were deployed to the Barents Sea off north-western Russia as part of an international effort to save the crew of the stricken nuclear submarine.

Before the British could descend to the wreck, divers determined on Monday that the Kursk was full of water and that no one could have survived. "We were ready to go when we got the sad word that it was full of water," Commodore Russell said during a stop in Norway.

The British team arrived on the scene a week after the Russians asked for foreign help. Commodore Russell did not know if it would have made any difference if his team had arrived sooner.

The Russians had unsuccessfully tried for a week to attach one of their own miniature submarines to an escape hatch, in part blaming damage to the hatch and the ring that surrounded it. "There is no doubt that the ring around the hatch was relatively undamaged," said Commodore Russell. "The LR5 is one of the best in the world for this type of operation, and we may have been able to do it."

The team would have tried to link the LR5 with the escape hatch so any survivors could have entered the rescue craft. Commodore Russell, whose full title is deputy flag officer submarines, has been in the British Royal Navy since 1970, and commanded three submarines, including two nuclear-powered ones.

He said his team had not given up hope for the Kursk crew until everything had been tried. "Until you know there is no chance, you have to try. As a submariner, if I am going to be able to sleep at night, I would want to know that everything would be tried," he said. "I wouldn't want to wish there was something more I had done."

When it became clear that the submarine was filled with water, he said he knew nothing more could be done.

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