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Russian Submarine Accident: Escape Hatch too Damaged to Use

Aired August 18, 2000 - 2:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: A Russian rescue team managed today to reach that sunken submarine Kursk, but the team could not get inside. It now appears that none of the sub's emergency hatches survived the disaster intact. As for those on board, it doesn't look good.

CNN's Mike Hanna brings us latest word now from Moscow.

MIKE HANNA, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Natalie, it was a devastating setback for the rescuers to discover that that rear escape hatch on the submarine Kursk was badly damaged. They actually managed to get their submersible vessel to dock on the hull of the submarine, something they've been trying to do now for days. But when they tried to equalize the pressure between the two vessels, they realized that the escape hatch was not operating correctly, and the whole effort had been in vain.

The real problem with this is that the two fore or forward escape hatches on the front of the submarine, the video evidence had earlier shown that they are damaged beyond repair. Now the whole basic technique had been for the rescue teams to gain access to the submarine through one of these escape hatches. So now this whole policy is going to have to be re-thought, or else some way has got to be found to actually repair the escape hatch before things can go any further.

But as to the condition of the crew, well, still no signs of life. According to the navy, they haven't heard any sounds from the submarine since Monday. One naval spokesman said again that perhaps this is because the crew are lying flat on the deck of the boat, attempting to conserve their energies and attempting to conserve the air that is remaining within the submarine.

But the admiral commanding the far northern fleet, Admiral Popov, said another point of concern is that their estimates that the air would last maybe until next week, was based on the fact that the pressure may stay the same. However, it now appears, he says, that the pressure is rising within the submarine. Which means that the air would last a lot shorter time.

So the outlook, very bleak indeed for the 118 members who were aboard the vessel Kursk. A British rescue team is on its way to the area with their own submersible, a mini-sub known as the LR-5. But that's no indication whether they will be able to succeed where the Russians have failed. The Russians did manage to dock the submarine, but their submarine -- but that problem of the escape hatch remains. So lots of work to do and the question being asked by -- among some observers is at what point is hope abandoned? at what point is it decided that they should stop risking lives in a rescue attempt when the crew are clearly dead -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And what about -- what are the chances they could still use their idea to try and float this submarine up?

HANNA: This is one of the methods that has been under consideration. But the problems are immense in terms of the size of the vessel involved. We're looking of at a vessel of some 14,000 tons. It is in the region of 450 feet long. It's nearly two football fields side-by-side.

Now to actually get the logistical engineering supplies into place to be able to move and shift that amount of tonnage is an immense operation. Up until now, the attempts have been concentrated on getting in as quickly as possible and on ensuring that if there are survivors, they are got to as quickly as possible. But it's something like moving the submarine on the ocean bed, is something that could take days and some experts say, could actually take weeks -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Just not looking good, Mike Hanna, we'll continue to follow.

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