Recovery team races against the clock

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The Independent Online

Whatever hopes there were of saving the lives of submariners from the stricken Kursk rested last night on a combination of a British rescue submarine, the LR5, and Norwegian deep- sea divers. They arrived at the scene at 5pm British time yesterday ahead of schedule and immediately made preparations to dive.

Whatever hopes there were of saving the lives of submariners from the stricken Kursk rested last night on a combination of a British rescue submarine, the LR5, and Norwegian deep- sea divers. They arrived at the scene at 5pm British time yesterday ahead of schedule and immediately made preparations to dive.

The diving teams were preparing to battle strong currents and swirling silt to try and dock with the hatch of the Kursk, which has now been lying 350ft down at the bottom of the Barents Sea for a week.

The condition of the submarine, the fear of further explosions and the state of the nuclear reactors will pose further problems when they attempt the rescue manoeuvre.

Last night the team received a briefing from Russian officers who were flown by helicopter to the Norwegian diving ship, the DSV Seaway Eagle, and then to the Normand Pioneer, the submersible's mother ship, to discuss details of the rescue effort. It will take about four hours for the submarine to dive to the wreck and return to the surface.

The Norwegian divers will position the LR5, considered the most sophisticated rescue submersible of its kind, over a hatch. This should enable any mariners still alive to be transferred from one vessel to the other. The LR5 is capable of carrying 15 evacuees at a time besides its own crew of three.

Commander Alan Hoskins, who is organising the British rescue team, was refusing to give up hope last night despite the chill warning issued by Vice-Admiral Mikhail Motsak, chief of the general staff of the Northern Fleet. Yesterday he interrupted national television to proclaim: "We will most likely have to say that our worst expectations have come true."

Commander Hoskins, speaking from the Normand Pioneer, said: "We will proceed if it is safe to do so. The mood is subdued because we are so close. There is a quiet air of determination. We are here to do a job so let us get on and do it.

"Until we are there and the pilots have gone down they will not know what the currents are. We can propel at two-and-a-half knots plus. If the current is two knots we can cope with that."

The British mini-submarine, which has never been used in a real rescue before, was expected to be joined by a team of 12 Norwegian divers experienced in deep-sea repairs to oil rigs. They will operate from a pressurised diving bell. In the water they will breathe a mixture of 90 per cent helium and 10 per cent oxygen and wear rubber suits through which hot water circulates.

Norwegian divers said they feared strong currents and radiation leaks. "We must cross our fingers and hope we can make a contribution," said diver Paal Stefan Dinesen.

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