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New Evidence Suggests 23 People Awaited Rescue After Russian Submarine Kursk was Immobilized

Aired October 26, 2000 - 1:01 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 grim discovery at the bottom of the Barents sea, proof that at least 23 men survived the August explosions aboard the Russian submarine Kursk and waited, trapped, for a rescue that never came. That fact disclosed in a note recovered by divers from the body of one of the victims.

CNN's Steve Harrigan joins us with more, now, from Moscow -- Steve.

STEVE HARRIGAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Natalie, another dramatic turn of events in this very sad tragedy that continues to go on. That note was found in the body of a lieutenant, a 27-year-old lieutenant, who was recovered from the Kursk just a short time ago.

The note was to his wife, it also includes some information about what happened in those final moments on the Kursk. Apparently at least 23 of those crewmen moved up from various compartments into the final, ninth section of the submarine. They waited there for perhaps as many as several hours; waited for a rescue that did not come.

Now, the lieutenant's -- the note was to the lieutenant's wife. Some details have not been made public; but part of that note was to her and she learned about the news of this note on television.

OLGA KOLESNIKOVA, SAILOR'S WIDOW (through translator): I came here after I heard the official announcement on TV. I love him very much. I want to see him and I want to read his letter.

HARRIGAN: So the effect of this note does two things: First, it undercuts one of the government's main claims all along -- it told the people that most, if not all, of the 118 men onboard the Kursk were killed instantly. This note really rejects that claim, it shows that at least 23 were hoping for a rescue.

Also, it serves to reopen a lot of wounds across Russia just as the Russians were making some progress, recovering some bodies for funerals. It reopens the whole question of whether or not these men could have been saved if more energetic activity was taken in a timely manner -- Natalie.

ALLEN: Steve, are they still recovering bodies? Is the operation still ongoing? HARRIGAN: That operation still is ongoing; it's a very difficult operation. It's taking place in the Barents Sea. Winter storms could put a stop to it at any minute. One of the toughest things is to break through the hull of the Kursk.

It's a very modern nuclear submarine, you've got to cut through a 2 1/2 inch steel plate and all this work is going on 100 meters under the surface. So it's very tough work and the weather could shut it down at any time. But Vladimir Putin has vowed to back the bodies and to help the relatives of those men killed -- Natalie.

ALLEN: And it will be interesting to see if there are any other messages they have found down in that submarine.

Thank you Steve Harrigan, from Moscow.

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