No one can say for sure whether any could have been saved, but at least 23 of the 118 men who died aboard the Russian nuclear
submarine Kursk in August 2000 were alive when it hit the seafloor. They spent hours hoping for rescue, even reportedly
tapping out SOS messages on the subs hull.
A scribbled note found on one of the recovered bodies established 23 men were alive, though just about everything else about the
catastrophe remains fuzzy.
It is possible that even the most advanced rescue efforts would not have been successful, but victims families and others have
criticized the Russian government for not immediately asking for help from other countries with rescue efforts.
Having apparently discarded some rescue equipment years before to save money, the Russians initially relied on diving bells
similar to those in use since the 1930s. These and other attempts were hampered by high seas and damage to Kursk that
made operating its escape hatch difficult. Other countries were eventually asked to help, but by then it was too late.
On August 12 listening devices had recorded two explosions in the Barents Sea, where Kursk was conducting exercises.
Early on, analysts suggested a variety of explanations for these, including a misfire during a torpedo test and an impact with a
World War II mine.
Another possibility was that the second explosion was the sub crashing into the seafloor as a result of some other problem.
Russian officials also suggested that the accident may have been caused by a collision with one of the foreign vessels in the
area monitoring the exercises, but the government has since denounced that theory.
The most likely explanation of the accident, according to Russian investigations of Kurskmost of which was
raised at the end of 2001is that the fuel in a torpedo ignited, starting a fire that caused the
torpedoes to detonate.
The Russians have admitted that the torpedo used an outdated and highly unstable propellant. All such weapons have now
been removed from their subs.
More information on what happened should come in late 2002, when Kursks mangled front portion, which
included the torpedo room, will be raised.
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