PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, AP-Seven people on board a submarine trapped for nearly three days under the Pacific Ocean were rescued Sunday after a British remote-controlled vehicle cut away the undersea cables that had snarled their vessel, allowing it to surface.
The seven, whose oxygen supplies had been dwindling amid underwater temperatures in the mid-40s, appeared to be in satisfactory condition, naval spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said. They were examined in the clinic of a naval ship, then transferred to a larger vessel to return to the mainland.
"The crew opened the hatch themselves, exited the vessel and climbed aboard a speedboat," said Rear Adm. Vladimir Pepelyayev, deputy head of the naval general staff.
"I can only thank our English colleagues for their joint work and the help they gave in order to complete this operation within the time we had available — that is, before the oxygen reserves ran out," he said.
The sub surfaced at 4:26 p.m. local time Sunday, some three days after becoming entangled in 600 feet of water off the Pacific Coast on Thursday and after a series of failed attempts to drag it closer to shore or haul it closer to the surface. It was carrying six sailors and a representative of the company that manufactured it.
The men aboard waited through grinding hours of uncertainty. Officials said they were wearing thermal suits to warm them against temperatures of about 40 F inside the sub. In order to conserve electricity, they used communications equipment only sporadically to contact with the surface. They tried to stay to stay calm, among other reasons, to conserve oxygen.
"The crew were steadfast, very professional," Pepelyayev said on Channel One television. "Their self-possession allowed them to conserve the air and wait for the rescue operation."
Yelena Milashevskaya, the wife of crew member Lt. Vyacheslav Milashevsky, told Channel One television that when she got the call saying her husband was alive, "My feelings danced. I was happy, I cried."
In an echo of the Kursk sinking, President Vladimir Putin had made no public comment by Sunday on the mini-sub drama. Putin remained on vacation as the Kursk disaster unfolded, raising criticism that he appeared either callous or ineffectual.
Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov traveled to the site of the rescue operation on Saturday.
But in sharp contrast to the August 2000 Kursk disaster, when authorities held off asking for help until hope was nearly exhausted, Russian military officials quickly sought help from U.S. and British authorities. All 118 people on board the Kursk died, some surviving for hours as oxygen ran out.
As U.S. and British crews headed toward the trapped sub, Russian officials considered various ways of freeing the vessel.
The Interfax news agency quoted Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Viktor Fyodorov as saying crews planned to try to blow up or tear away the anchoring system in an effort to free the vessel — an idea that apparently was later discarded.
Dygalo later said Russian rescue crews managed to loop cables under the assembly and were preparing to try to lift the vessel closer to the surface, where divers could try to rescue the sailors.
That effort failed. But by Sunday afternoon, a British remote-controlled Super Scorpio cut away the cables that had snarled the vessel in Beryozovaya Bay, about 10 miles off the east coast of the Kamchatka peninsula, which juts into the sea north of Japan.
But even that attempt was hampered. A mechanical problem with the Super Scorpio forced workers to bring the rescue vehicle to the surface, just after the discovery of a fishing net caught on the nose of the submarine, Russian officials said.
The United States also dispatched a crew and three underwater vehicles to Kamchatka, but they never left the port.
Officials said the Russian submarine was participating in a combat training exercise and got snarled on an underwater antenna assembly that is part of a coastal monitoring system. The system is anchored with a weight of about 66 tons, according to news reports.
Officials said the sub”s propeller initially became ensnared in a fishing net.
The events and an array of confusing and contradictory statements — with wildly varying estimates of how much air the crew had left — darkly echoed the sinking of the Kursk.
Russia”s cash-strapped navy apparently lacks rescue vehicles capable of operating at the depth where the sub was stranded, and officials say it was too deep for divers to reach or the crew to swim out on their own.
The submarine”s problems indicated that promises by Putin to improve the navy”s equipment apparently have had little effect. He was criticized for his slow response to the Kursk crisis and reluctance to accept foreign assistance.
The new crisis has been highly embarrassing for Russia, which will hold an unprecedented joint military exercise with China later this month, including the use of submarines to settle an imaginary conflict in a foreign land. In the exercise, Russia is to field a naval squadron and 17 long-haul aircraft.