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Breaking News

Hope Dwindling for Downed Russian Submarine

Aired August 14, 2000 - 1:23 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: We continue to follow the story of the Russian nuclear submarine that has been disabled after a collision -- with what, we don't know yet. The Russians haven't been able to tell anyone what it collided with. But we do know 107 to 130 people are on board that submarine and it's in 350 feet of water.

We referenced Paul Beaver, a military expert with "Jane's Defence Weekly" a moment ago. We have him back with us.

Mr. Beaver, anything new as far as a decision by the Russians on what to do as far as a possible rescue?

PAUL BEAVER, "JANE'S DEFENCE WEEKLY": Natalie, no. I think the Russians are still trying to work out exactly what their options are. It does seem that this accident was quite catastrophic. There's a feeling in Western Europe here, particularly in London, that this accident may be a lot worse than the Russians are letting on, and in fact, that large numbers of the crew are already dead.

The Russians are also saying that they believe that there's another vessel involved. (INAUDIBLE) that too could be somewhere in the Barents Sea, not that far from the Kursk. We're not sure whether or not it was another submarine. There is always this NATO and Russian game of blind man's bluff, which is played between submarines. But the (UNINTELLIGIBLE), in his exercises would come close to the surface to practice his missile drills.

There's just a suspicion it may have hit something on surface. And there are other NATO officials there. There's a Norwegian spy ship, for example. There are Russian ships around. We just don't know at the moment. It is actually more confused now than it was (INAUDIBLE) ago.

ALLEN: Well, what we do know, what you've reported, is there are vessels, even U.S. vessels, that could be involved in a rescue. How would a rescue take place?

BEAVER: Well everybody is hoping there will be a rescue. The Russians are being rather down-beat about it at the moment, saying that they don't hold out much hope for these people. I certainly hope that if I was a submariner, that my admiralty is London would be trying to do everything it could to rescue them. And I have to believe that the Russians are trying to do that. There is a capability in the West, in NATO nations, with small rescue submarines, to take people, small numbers of people, at a time and transfer them -- to transfer equipment so that the submarine can have its damage control capabilities in hand. All these things are possible. It just depends, though, on how just badly damaged the submarine is. And as times goes on, it seems to indicate that the submarine is a lot worse off than we originally thought.

So it could have had a catastrophic collision, which (INAUDIBLE) floor and opened up its (INAUDIBLE) letting water in. It then went to the bottom because it couldn't surface, the normal drill. The reactors automatically shut off because they couldn't get cooling water, because the submarine was on the bottom. And as a result of that, now the people down there are stranded. And that's a real problem.

The Russians don't seem to have any idea at the moment -- or at least they're communicating to us -- on how they are going to affect a rescue. But affect a rescue they must.

ALLEN: Help us, Mr. Beaver, appreciate the size of this nuclear submarine, and the power with that nuclear reactor on board.

BEAVER: Well, Let me give you some statistics about the Kursk. It's an Oscar-II-class submarine. It was launched in May, 1994. It first entered operational service in October of that year and went to sea in the January of 1995. That's when NATO first caught a glimpse of it. It's 18,300 tons submerged. That's mean with all the water and ballast on board. It (INAUDIBLE) missiles something in the order of 330 miles.

It also carries 28 torpedoes and anti-ship missiles. It's a very formidable weapons system. It has 107 members of the crew. Although, on training exercises, it tends to carry slightly more numbers than that, which is why we're not sure of the exactly numbers -- capable of diving to in excess of 1,000 feet, according (INAUDIBLE) It's a complex piece of equipment.

The two pressure water reactors on board are of the latest design. So there shouldn't be an environmental risk at the moment from this submarine.

ALLEN: And lastly, Mr. Beaver, we talked about this, there is the possibility that the people aboard the submarine could actually try and swim out of the torpedo tubes into the waters. Do you...

BEAVER: Well, it's not the torpedo tubes, Natalie. They're only 21 inches in diameter. So that is going to be a little difficult for them, unless they are (INAUDIBLE) down there. So what they can do is, they can use -- there are two escape trunks. There's one aft in the reactor compartment and forward that goes out through the conning tower -- what Americans would call the sail. And you can get out of that.

British submariners have practiced escaping form submarines between 500 and 600 feet below the surface. It's not very pleasant. You have to breathe carefully, exhaling air as you go out, in order not to collapse your lungs and cause all sorts of (INAUDIBLE) But it is possible to do it. And the Russians might have (INAUDIBLE) still of course would be to send a rescue submarine.

ALLEN: OK, Paul Beaver, again with "Jane's Defence Weekly." Thank you so much for helping with this story. We will continue to follow it closely as we wait to hear what Russia plans to do. But again, him reporting right then that many people believe this could be a lot worse than the Russians are reporting, and that people aboard that submarine may be dead.

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