Soviet Mike Class /When: April 7, 1989 / Where: Norwegian Sea
While the nuclear submarine Komsomolets was operating at sea, a major fire broke out in one compartment
and quickly spread to another. Power was lost and the reactors were shut down. The ship surfaced and radioed for help.
The crew decided to let the fires, contained in the two sealed compartments, burn themselves out, but the extreme
heat melted seals in the hull, allowing water to rush in.
As the submarine began sinking stern first, and some 50 men tried to climb onto a life raft meant to hold 25. In
the icy waters of the Norwegian Sea, the men in the water would not long survive.
Those remaining aboard the submarine attempted to escape in the emergency escape capsule, a design feature found
on only Soviet nuclear submarines. The capsule failed to release until a jolt apparently freed the capsule.
The capsule shot to the surface, where its hatch burst open. The pressure inside ejected two men, one of
whom survived. The capsule quickly sank and those remaining inside died.
Of the 69 men aboard, 42 died, but only 4 were killed by the fire and explosions. The rest either drowned
or died from exposure. The accident highlighted the hazard of fire aboard a submerged submarine, as well
as the importance of a swift rescue response.