Divers find first three bodies aboard sunken 'Kursk'

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The Independent Online

Deep-sea divers yesterday entered the hull of the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk and found the bodies of three of the 118 victims of the disaster, navy officials said.

Deep-sea divers yesterday entered the hull of the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk and found the bodies of three of the 118 victims of the disaster, navy officials said.

The bodies were found several hours after the joint Norwegian and Russian team succeeded in cutting a 3ft-wide hole in a rear compartment of the submarine as it lay on the bottom of the Barents Sea. The divers, based aboard the Norwegian floating platform Regalia, had been working to open the hull of the Kursk for five days.

Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov, the naval commander-in-chief, gave permission yesterday for Rear-Admiral Gennady Verich, who is heading the recovery operation, to set a time when the divers would enter the Kursk. Remote controlled television cameras are being lowered inside the submarine to see the extent of the damage.

The Russian navy is keen to avoid any fresh disasters during the present operation 354 feet below the surface of the Barents Sea. A special cushion has been fitted over the jagged hole cut in the hull. The divers used pressurised water mixed with diamond dust to cut through the two-and-a-half inch steel plate in the inner hull.

The team has already had to cut through the rubber inside the double hull and remove pipes which were obstructing their work. Those who will actually enter the Kursk will all be Russians while the foreign divers will stay in the diving bell lowered from the Regalia.

Birger Haraldseid, spokesman for the Norwegian arm of Halliburton, the Texas oil services company which is under contract to the Russians during the operation, said yesterday: "Everything is now ready for the Russian divers to be able to go in." The Kursk, launched in 1995, was one of the most modern nuclear submarines in the Russian fleet. It sank on 12 August after two explosions occurred within minutes of each other, the second with the explosive power of four to seven tons of TNT.

Russian naval officers have said they expect to rescue the remains of only one-third of the 118 crew who were on board the submarine. They assume the rest of the bodies were torn apart by the explosions.

* A Russian military plane with 75 people on board crashed yesterday near the Georgian port of Batumi. A spokeswoman for the Emergency Ministry said it was not known whether there were any survivors among the 64 passengers and 11 crew aboard the four-engine 1l-18 plane.

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