August 5, 2005
International Rescue officials are working to free seven sailors aboard a Russian mini-submarine that's stranded on the ocean floor.
There are contradictory reports about how much breatheable air is left in that submarine. Now rescue officials are racing against time to get this crew out.
The S.O.S. went out after a propeller on the Russian AS-28 mini-submarine got entangled in fishing nets 600-feet below the surface Thursday. The 7-man crew is safe but conflicting reports say they have between one and three days of air left. As Russian rescue vessels try to tow the sub to shallower waters so the crew can escape, naval teams from the U.S., Britain, and Japan are rushing to help.
"We re obviously working against time right now. So, the process, right now, is just on expediency of getting it loaded and getting it over there," said Capt. Jacqueline Yost, a Navy Spokeswoman.
'It' is the U.S. Navy's Super Scorpio: an unmanned, deep-diving submarine that's being airlifted from San Diego to Russia's pacific waters, south of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Scorpio comes with high-powered lights and sonar and video cameras.
"[The sub is at] 600-feet; the Scorpio units are capable of operating down to 5,000 feet, so it's not a depth issue for them. They have the equipment, the manipulator arms that can cut the cables that are entangling the vessel," said Commander Kent Van Horne, of the U.S. Navy Deep Submergence Unit.
Once the Scorpio gets to its destination, it will be another six hours until it's ready for rescue operations. The crews know time is of the essence and so does the Kremlin, which called for help less than a day after the incident.
They've learned their lesson. Back in 2000, Russian officials were criticized for not appealing for help sooner when the nuclear submarine, Kursk, sank to the bottom of the Barents Sea after an on-board explosion. All 118-seamen were killed. Now, the Russians are hoping to avoid another catastrophe.
Officials have been in contact with the sailors, and right now they're still safe. Tehy're hoping by getting the submarine to more shallow waters, the crew will be able to swim to safety.