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Breaking News

Veil of Secrecy Surrounds Efforts to Rescue 116 Crew Members of Russian Sub

Aired August 15, 2000 - 8:01 a.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We have breaking news to cover here from CNN in Atlanta, a veil of secrecy and the unknown surround efforts to rescue some 116 crew members of the Russian submarine Kursk. Time there is the enemy.

The nuclear powered sub lies now crippled on the sea bed off Russia's northwest coast in the Barents Sea, and worsening weather is also working against the Russian navy, which so far has refused all offers of help.

From Moscow now, CNN's Mike Hanna joins us with the very latest on this breaking story -- Mike.

MIKE HANNA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, as you said, time and the weather are the enemies at this particular point and reports from the region indicate that there has been a lessening of the strong northwestern gale that has been blowing through the region.

And the Interfax News Agency quotes the Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev as saying the evacuation of crew members aboard the submarine has now begun. There are 116 crew members known to be aboard the nuclear submarine Kursk, lying at a depth of 108 meters, that's in the region of 350-odd feet.

And according to Interfax, quoting the defense minister: The evacuation of these crew members has begun. We have no details as to exactly how this procedure is being carried out.

We do understand, however, that the weather conditions are favorable at this particular point. The concern, though, that, at any stage, these weather conditions could deteriorate and the process of extracting the crew members from the submarine, whichever method is being used, is likely to be a lengthy process indeed -- Leon.

HARRIS: Well, Mike, in the information that you've been getting from both politicians and from military officials there in Moscow, does it seem that they are on the same page because it seems like they're getting separate signals out there?

HANNA: Yes indeed. There has -- since this disaster happened there has been very contradictory messages coming from the politicians on the one side who do appear to be optimistic throughout the deputy prime minister, Illia Kliasonov (ph), who is actually in charge of the reports about the rescue operation has expressed optimism that the rescue will happen.

However, the naval commander-in-chief, the Admiral Vladimir Kirodirov (ph), has been slightly more pessimistic, saying that every attempt is being made to rescue the crewmen, but saying throughout that it -- he doesn't really -- cannot confirm that such a mission will be successful. So, certainly, mixed signals coming from the politicians and from the military naval people, who one would assume would know a little bit more about the situation -- Leon.

HARRIS: That's right. Well, we would assume so.

Mike Hanna, in Moscow, thank you, we'll get back to you on this later on.

The Russian navy does remain tight-lipped about the condition of the submarine and its crew on board, and has offered three different accounts of what actually may have happened on board.

Let's go down to the Pentagon, national security correspondent David Ensor is there.

David, what do we know so far from this end?

DAVID ENSOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Leon, besides the natural concern that fellow military personnel here at the Pentagon feel for the lives of those men that are down under the Barents sea, there is also another question that is concerning some here. And that is, what was the nature of the explosion?

As you said, we still don't know what caused the submarine to lose power and land on the bottom of the sea, but Russian officials are now talking about an explosion in the torpedo bay.

Now the Kursk is equipped to carry, as well as conventional torpedoes, nuclear-tipped torpedoes. Officials here say that if there have been a nuclear explosion they would already know that, that there would already be evidence of that in the waters around the Kursk, and they would already know.

However, there is a question still here as to whether there may have been a conventional torpedo explosion and whether that could have nonetheless spread some -- some nuclear materials in the area.

Norwegian officials, who are also in the area, say they have -- and they are very good at this -- have not detected in the nuclear leakage from the Kursk thus far. But it is an outstanding question, one that people here are watching closely as they also watch and worry about the Russian rescue effort. They are definitely rooting for it here at the Pentagon -- Leon.

HARRIS: All right, thanks much, David Ensor at the Pentagon this morning.

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