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'Hell' inside Kursk revealed

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian investigators have shown journalists the charred and mangled inner compartments of the Kursk where many of the 118-strong crew died.

"What happened inside these compartments was hell," said Russia's Prosecutor-General Vladimir Ustinov.

He was presenting a seven-minute documentary filmed by investigators inside the Russian submarine, now in a dry dock at the northern port of Roslyakovo.

"The explosion... wiped out everything here," Ustinov said in the documentary, shown on Russian television channels.

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The film showed a surreal twisted column of metal which was once the proud submarine's periscope.

"Everything is littered with equipment that was destroyed in the explosion," Ustinov said. "The strong alloys from which these compartments are built were simply ripped apart."

The Kursk's commanders and most of the crew in the front compartments were killed as two blasts 135 seconds apart sent the mighty submarine to the bottom of the Barents Sea, Ustinov told The Associated Press.

Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov, the Russian Navy commander, said that at the request of relatives, the bodies recovered from the wreckage will be transported to their hometowns, and a farewell ceremony for them "will be conducted with full military honours," the Interfax news agency reported.

Of the 118-strong crew, most died in the initial blasts but at least 23 survived the August 2000 disaster for hours in the stern compartments.

"We are finding the bodies of the dead, and the main cause of death is suffocation," Ustinov said.

Ustinov, who leads the team of investigators, said experts believe the submarine was completely flooded within six to seven, and a "maximum eight hours."

The sailors who did not die in the explosions began feeling the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning within 90 minutes, according to letters found by divers who recovered 12 bodies from the sunken vessel a year ago.

The first note by one sailor "is written in a steady, beautiful hand, and in a second note written an hour and a half later you can see it's difficult for him to write. This confirms that water and carbon monoxide began filling the 9th (stern) compartment," said Ustinov.

"Those who think there was a possibility to save our sailors should know that there was no such possibility," he added.

Despite the force of the explosions, the reactor compartment withstood the blasts and was only flooded by water coming from ventilation and other openings, he said.

Kuroyedov said the operation to fully disarm the submarine of its 22 Granit cruise missiles will begin next week.

"At the moment, intensive preparations for unloading the missiles are underway," he said.

The shattered forward compartment, where the Kursk's torpedoes were located, was left on the bottom of the sea out of concern that it could break off and destabilise the lifting operation.

Most of the submarine's hull was raised on October 8 in an $65 million salvage operation carried out by an international team of divers, and a wreath and plaque were laid at the spot where they died.

Forty inspectors began their work on the wreck once radiation levels and storage conditions of the Kursk's missiles had been found to be safe, and the Kursk had been dried out.

Holes bored in the hull had been found to be free from any leakage from the submarine's twin nuclear reactors.

The firing tubes which contained the 22 cruise missiles also posed no threat, according to inspections.


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