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Pentagon Holds Briefing on Russian Submarine Rescue Efforts

Aired August 15, 2000 - 1:40 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to join now the Pentagon briefer this afternoon. They are taking questions about the rescue effort under way for the Russian submarine.


QUESTION: ... so they could more speedily brought assistance.

ADM. CRAIG QUIGLEY, PENTAGON SPOKESMAN: No, we have not moved troops or flown things or steamed things somewhere. As I'm sure many of you know, the deep submergence rescue vehicle assets that the U.S. Navy has are located at North Island Naval Air Station in the San Diego metro area.

The folks there are very much aware of the accident with the Russian submarine, of course. They have taken prudent measures to make sure they can account for their folks. They're doing an inventory of equipment, they're making sure everything is as prepared as it can be.

But again, in the absence of a request for assistance, we're just kind of taking what we think are the prudent precautionary measures to shorten a response timeline should such a request for assistance come.

Many other things could be provided in the way of technical advice. Who knows what would be helpful to the Russians. And I'm sure they're considering that carefully.

QUESTION: Do you have any reason to believe that an American deep-submergence recovery vehicle would be able to fit the hatch of this particular submarine, even with the different adjustable collars that the United States has for it?

QUIGLEY: We think so, John, but there's a lack of clarity on that. Sometime ago there was a -- some years ago there was a template provided by the United States to various navies in the world saying: This is what you would need to construct and put on the escape hatches of your submarines in order to make it compatible with our deep- submergence rescue vehicles.

Now, whether or not the Russians, or other navies for that matter, have taken that next step and constructed that sort of an adaptive arrangement, we don't know.

QUESTION: You don't know whether it would fit on there anyway?

QUIGLEY: We're not sure.

QUESTION: And one other sort of operating question. If the submarine is in fact at a 60 degree angle off level, which the Russians say it is, is that not beyond the operating parameters of this recovery vehicle?

QUIGLEY: It is beyond the design parameters of the United States deep-submergence rescue vehicles. It's been described to me by some of our technical experts as right on the edge and at very high risk. We would have to just take a really hard look at that. And again, that would be preceded of course by very detailed technical discussions with the Russian navy, with their design experts, so that we would have some clarity as to their current state of play on the submarine and how it is situated on the bottom.

QUESTION: It sounds like it might be a waste of time even if you did send this piece of equipment over to the Russians, were they to ask for it.

QUIGLEY: Well, again, in our invitation to the Russians, and asking the question, if there is anything to provide, if they choose to ask for some assistance, that may not be the form in which it's provided. So I think they are fully aware of our willingness to provide help, but they feel that they've got the assets on hand now that they need to do the job as they see it. And we stand ready to do what we can, if that request comes.

QUESTION: Admiral, are you aware of any queries by the Russians perhaps to NATO about possible assets in the event they were to request help?

QUIGLEY: I heard that not long before I came into the briefing room. But I'm very fuzzy on details, I'm sorry. That's just about the extent of what I had heard. I don't know what may have transpired there. I'd have to refer you to NATO.

I am clear on the request -- or the offer that the United States provided. I know on the U.S. national side, we have made that offer and the Russians have declined. On the NATO side, I'm not sure.

QUESTION: What is it that you heard about NATO?

QUIGLEY: That there was some sort of a request, but I have no clarity on that. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Can you tell us what, if anything, we know about the Russian effort to effect a rescue, and is the LOYAL, the T-AGOS ship you mentioned, moving closer so that it can monitor a rescue attempt?

QUIGLEY: No. LOYAL is remaining at considerable distance. And we don't, we're again relaying on Russian reports as to what it is that they are doing. I know that there is a variety of ships and aircraft that I've seen and read being described in print and electronic news pieces coming out of Moscow, but the exact state of affairs, Dale, as to what they may have on scene and what their activities are at this very moment, I don't have visibility on that.

There have been reports coming out of Russia that have said a recovery operation is under way, but that's a broad statement. I'm not sure what that means exactly.

QUESTION: Has anybody in the building here calculated how long the crew can survive in the sub in terms of the oxygen supply? I vaguely remember when the SCORPION went down, they calculated -- were able to calculate it out to like 110 hours for a certain volume.

Do you all have any kind of indication as to when you reach a point of no return, in terms of the breathability of the...

QUIGLEY: I understand your question. I don't think we have the facts at our disposal here in the U.S. Defense Department to give a good honest answer to that, though, Ed. It would depend on how many people are specifically on board the submarine, your level of activity amongst those crew members on the submarine, what is the state of the atmosphere on the submarine, and those are things we just don't know, so we're just not sure.

I've seen both 107 and 116, Bob, so I don't know. I've not heard an official figure given by the Russian navy yet, and I would certainly defer to them.

QUESTION: Is the Pentagon entirely confident that there are no nuclear weapons on the submarine.

QUIGLEY: Again, we're going with the public statements by the Russian naval authorities that there were not.

QUESTION: And are there particular concerns about having two nuclear reactors at the bottom of the Barents Sea? Or is 450 feet of water just a fine insulation, even should part of that radioactive material get out of the container that it's in?

QUIGLEY: Well, I think everyone's foremost concerns, John, are for the sailors that are on that submarine.

But again, from reports that the Russians have provided, their reporting is that the reactors were safely shut down.

If that is the case, that would be -- that would give you one set of circumstances. If it were not the case, it would give you another. So again, I'm afraid we don't have very good visibility on that.

QUESTION: You mentioned that obviously the reports of the Russian rescue effort are sketchy. Can you tell us whether or not the U.S. has information on whether or not the Russians do in fact have a similar rescue vehicle to what we do?

QUIGLEY: They do. It's not a perfect match, if you will. I don't think there are any two nations that have exactly identical equipment.

QUESTION: (OFF-MIKE) QUIGLEY: No, I don't. But I know that if you look at nations like France and Great Britain and the Netherlands and Russia, all of whom operate submarines and have for many, many years, they each have some capability to rescue crew members from submarines in distress. And the Russian navy does indeed have that capability. Now, where it is located and it's current state of readiness, I don't have that information.

QUESTION: Can you tell us about the explosion that reports say Navy assets heard at the time of the...

QUIGLEY: Chris, again, I've heard -- I've heard "collision," I've heard "fire," I've heard "explosion" as the cause of the accident. And I just -- it's confusing enough for me that I wouldn't hazard a guess in that regard.

The Russians may not yet be in a position to know with certainty what the cause of the accident was.

So I would just be very reluctant to try to predict the accuracy of that cause versus any other. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: Would it be inaccurate to say the Navy heard any explosion at the time of the...

QUIGLEY: I don't know what they may have heard, I'm sorry. Again, I'm sure that they will be forthcoming with that, as they can be in the days ahead. But I'm just not sure what sort of communications they may have had with the submarine or what their sensors may have picked up. I don't know, I'm sorry.

QUESTION: The AFCHAK (ph) and the IUSS system is still very much in operation. This is not a classified piece of information. In fact, Aviation Week last year did a big kind of anniversary on these two sensor systems and how they kept the peace in the Cold War. Can you deny or affirm that those systems were in a position to record and retrieve an acoustic signal from that incident?

QUIGLEY: No, I will not be specific as to what any of our sensors may have detected.

QUESTION: To get back to John's question for a minute, even if the crew can be saved at this point, it appears the vessel is certainly lost. What is the threat -- eventually, presumably sea water will get in there. If that vessel sits there forever, it can't remain sealed forever against the elements. What is the threat in terms of the amount of radio active material in those reactors? And how big a contamination potential threat are we talking about?

QUIGLEY: Well, I can't give you a sense of degree here. I mean, I would have to defer to the designers of those reactors, and to what sort of protective measures do they have in place, how are they designed to withstand the elements over a period of time. And I just -- I can't give you a good answer, I'm sorry.

I know I'm spending a lot of time telling you I can't give you a good answer, but this is -- these are all systems -- they're all perfectly valid questions, I just don't have the visibility to provide good answers. I'm sorry.

QUESTION: This is one maybe you can answer. In addition to the DSRV's, the Pentagon and the U.S. government has apparently drawn up a list of things that, should the Russians ask, we would be willing to offer in terms of assisting them in this situation. Can you give us an idea of some of the things beyond that one submersible that you might be willing to help them with?

QUIGLEY: Sure. I'm not trying to be all-encompassing here, but some others come immediately to mind. There are two of the deep- submergence rescue vehicles in the San Diego area, North Island area, one of which, as I understand, is operational and ready to go. The other is not.

We have submarine rescue chambers that are -- being a little overly simplistic, but it's basically a bell sort of a device that is lowered down from a surface ship by a cable of some sort, that would then meet up with a submarine's rescue or escape hatch on the bottom.

You certainly have salvage assets that you've seen used all too often in the last few years for aircraft accidents, the Challenger disaster, things of that sort, that could be used to recover objects from the ocean floor.

Certainly a variety of expertise exists in the Navy and in the private maritime-salvage community for technical advice, if not equipment, then certainly bringing another set of personal experiences and knowledge to the table to share information.

Medical information, if that would be desired, we certainly have a great deal of experience in that regard, and the effects of deep- water and deep-ocean environments on human beings.

So again, without trying to be all-encompassing, those are some other things that come to mind.

QUESTION: How about the GLOMAR EXPLORER? Is that still a functional salvage ship?

QUIGLEY: I don't know. I don't know where it is today, to be honest with you.

I don't know where it is today to be honest with you. Yes.

ALLEN: Rear Admiral Craig Quigley taking questions from reporters today about whether Russia has requested any U.S. help in trying to rescue the men aboard the submarine, the Kirsk. According to the Pentagon, Russia has made no request. However, CNN has just learned that Russian representatives to NATO have made inquiries in Brussels about possible NATO assistance.

U.S. sources tell CNN that a Russian government representative at NATO headquarters has asked informally, if we were to ask for assistance what sort of capabilities could NATO member nations offer. Such an inquiry might be the first step toward requesting assistance from another nation. So we will keep tabs on that.

If the U.S. were called upon to help, as we just learned from the Pentagon, the hatches that the U.S. has on its submersibles and its bell that it can lower down to help attach to this Russian submarine might not be compatible with the hatch on this nuclear submarine. So we will keep you posted on further developments.

We are also just learning from Russian news service that the first attempt to try and evacuate sailors aboard this submarine has now failed. That is the first attempt of many on a rescue that was suppose to take six to eight hours this afternoon. It is midnight there in the Barents Sea.



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