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Kursk Submarine Disaster

The K-141 Antey nuclear-powered submarine’s keel was constructed at the Severny Machine-Building Plant in Severodvinsk in 1992. The submarine, designed by Pavel Pustyntsev and Igor Baranov, was named Kursk on April 6, 1993, launched May 1994, and commissioned on December 30 the same year.

MOSCOW, August 12 (RIA Novosti) – The K-141 Antey nuclear-powered submarine’s keel was constructed at the Severny Machine-Building Plant in Severodvinsk in 1992. The submarine, designed by Pavel Pustyntsev and Igor Baranov, was named Kursk on April 6, 1993, launched May 1994, and commissioned on December 30 the same year.

On March 1, 1995, the cruise missile submarine entered the Northern Fleet and joined the 7th Division of the 1st Nuclear Submarine Flotilla based at Zapadnaya Litsa (Bolshaya Lopatka).

Between 1995 and 2000, the submarine served Russia’s Northern Fleet.

On August 12, 2000, during an exercise in the Barents Sea under the command of Capt. 1st Rank Gennady Lyachin, the submarine failed to establish communication at the designated time, while it was at the Northern Fleet’s naval testing area for exercises in torpedoing a flotilla of combat ships.

The following day, a group of ships led by Northern Fleet commander Adm. Vyacheslav Popov sailed out in search of the submarine. At 4:51 a.m., the Kursk was discovered resting on the sea floor at a depth of 108 meters. At 7:15 a.m., then Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev reported the incident to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At 11 a.m. on August 14, the commanders of the Russian Navy made their first public statement, reporting that the submarine had sank. The Navy’s statement assured the public that they maintained radio communication with the submarine.

Shortly after, however, the Navy’s spokesmen said they only communicated by tapping, that there was no danger for the crew, and that Kolokol rescue apparatus supplied fuel and oxygen and ventilated the submarine. Soon after that, Russian Navy commander Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov announced that there was little hope in rescuing the Kursk’s crew.

On August 15, the Russian Navy’s headquarters officially declared the start of the rescue operation to evacuate the crew. Northern Fleet rescue vessels arrived at the site, including nuclear-powered submarine Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great), and about 20 ships and rescue vessels. However, a storm did not allow for the rescue operation to begin.

A spokesman of the Northern Fleet told journalists that day that tapping proved the crew members were alive, but he said it was unclear whether anyone among the 103 people aboard the submarine was injured. The number of people on board was later confirmed to be 118.

On August 16, in the midst of a two-point sea disturbance, a Priz deep-water rescue device was deployed from the Rudnitsky rescue vessel. Throughout the night, several attempts were made to enter the submarine, all unsuccessful.

On August 17, the Norwegian Seaway Eagle ship set out for the site carrying deep-sea divers, and the transport vessel Normand Pioneer, carrying British experts and equipment, sailed out from the Norwegian port of Trondheim.

In the afternoon of August 19, the Normand Pioneer, carrying a British LR5 rescue mini-submarine, arrived at the site, beginning an international rescue operation.

On August 20, Norwegian divers inspected the submarine in an attempt to determine the damage and the presence of air cushions in the stern of the submarine. They managed to unlock its escape hatch but could not get inside the submarine. To open the hatch, special tools had to be constructed.

In the morning of August 21 the Norwegian divers managed to open the upper escape hatch of the ninth compartment, but the escape lock was empty. At around 1:00 p.m., the divers opened the internal hatch to the submarine’s ninth compartment, which appeared to be filled with water. At 3:27 p.m., a video camera was inserted into the submarine for experts to try to determine the condition of the seventh and eighth compartments of the submarine.

At 5 p.m. on August 21, Vice Adm. Mikhail Motsak, chief-of-staff of the Northern Fleet, officially confirmed the deaths of the K-141 Kursk submarine crewmembers.

On August 22, the Russian president issued an executive order declaring August 23 a day of mourning.

On the 40th day after the Kursk disaster, a commemorative stone of mourning was laid in a memorial on the island of Yagry in the city of Severodvinsk in the Arkhangelsk Region, where the submarine was built.

An operation to collect the bodies of the dead sailors began on October 25 and finished on November 7, 2000. The lifting of the submarine began on October 7, 2001, and on October 10, it was towed to the Russian Navy’s Roslyakovo shipyard.

Throughout the fall of 2000 and the fall and winter of 2001, 115 bodies of the 118 dead submarine sailors were recovered and identified.

Eight investigative teams were set up to investigate events surrounding the sinking of the Kursk. They started as soon as the submarine was completely drained. The groups included experts from the Northern Fleet and representatives of the Moscow and St. Petersburg military districts. The investigative groups’ members passed a special psychological screening and studied the submarine for one whole year in order to determine the investigation’s parameters where to get information.

On October 27, 2001, Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov declared that a visual inspection of the submarine indicated that a fire spread throughout the entire vessel. Temperatures reached 8,000 degrees Celsius at its hottest points. The submarine was filled with water “within six to seven hours, eight hours maximum." Ustinov stressed that the submarine suffered extensive damage, and that all the partitions inside the hull “seemed to be cut off as if with a knife.” However, the partition separating the sixth nuclear reactor compartment survived, and the reactor remained undamaged. Some 22 cruise missiles, located at the sides of the submarine, were also not damaged.

On July 26, 2002, Russia’s prosecutor general announced that “an explosion at the site of the location of a practice torpedo inside the fourth torpedo launcher, and subsequent explosions of the combat torpedo sections in the submarine’s first compartment" caused the Kursk disaster. Ustinov also reported that his office had closed the criminal case into the Kursk disaster due to the lack of criminal intent in the incident. He said officials responsible for holding naval exercise in the Barents Sea, the manufacturing, exploitation and installment of the torpedo that caused the disaster, were not guilty of crimes.

In a Russian presidential executive order, the Kursk’s crewmembers were posthumously awarded with orders of courage, while the commander of the vessel, Lyachin, was posthumously awarded the title of Hero of the Russian Federation.

On August 12, 2002, memorials were unveiled in the memory of the Kursk’s crew in Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod and the village of Vidyayevo.

A memorial at the Serafimovskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg, the burial site of 32 sailors of the Kursk, was completed in August 2003.

On March 19, 2005, a monument to Kursk crewmembers from Sevastopol was unveiled at the Kommunarov Cemetery in Sevastopol.

In 2009, the cabin of the Kursk was placed at the observation deck of the Church of the Saviour on Water, Murmansk, and became part of the memorial to sailors that perished during peacetime.

On July 31, 2012, the relatives of the Kursk’s crew, the participants of the fourth car rally of naval veterans and representatives of the Northern Fleet command placed an Orthodox cross at the bottom of the Barents Sea at the site where the submarine had sunk.

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