Seven exhausted Russian sailors returned to dry land yesterday after a dramatic operation by a British undersea robot freed their mini-submarine three days after it became trapped on the Pacific Ocean floor.
The rescue, some 75 hours after the Priz AS-28 mini-sub became snagged on the seabed 190 metres underwater during military exercises, was completed with just hours of oxygen supplies left for the stranded crew.
"We believed the whole time that we would be saved," the AS-28's captain, Vyacheslav Milashevsky, told the ITAR-TASS news agency after reaching Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the regional capital.
The men, wearing naval uniforms, looked drained as they stepped onto dry land. They were pronounced in good health and taken to hospital for further check-ups.
The key to the submariners' rescue from the seabed roughly 70 kilometres from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky was the arrival of a British navy team with a sophisticated Scorpio underwater robot.
The United States had also sent remote-controlled underwater vehicles for the rescue, but they were not used. The British vehicle arrived several hours before the ones from the United States.
Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, who went to Kamchatka to supervise the operation, praised the international effort and said: "We have seen in deeds, not in words, what the brotherhood of the sea means."
The sub surfaced at around 0126 GMT, some three days after becoming stranded in 190 metres of water off the Pacific Coast.
Earlier, Russian ships had tried to tow the sub and its entanglements to shallower water where divers could reach it, but were able to move it only about 60-100 metres in the Beryozovaya Bay about 15 kilometres off the Kamchatka coast.
Then, a British remote-controlled Super Scorpio cut away the cables that had snarled the 13.2-metre mini-submarine and Russian navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said the vessel was able to come to the surface on its own.
The men aboard the small submarine waited out tense hours as rescuers raced to free them before the vessel's air supply ran out.
SCORPIO SAVES SEVEN RUSSIAN SAILORS
The Scorpio 45, the British underwater rescue vehicle that saved seven Russian sailors yesterday, is prized for its ability to deploy at a moment's notice to deep-sea crisis situations around the globe.
Armed with an array of cameras and cutting equipment able to slice through the most tangled web of cables, the Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV) made light work of the mesh snagging the Priz AS-28 mini-sub off Russia's Pacific coast.
The Scorpio, which is just 2.75 metres long, 1.8 metres tall and weighs 1.4 tons, was dispatched from a base in Scotland where it is on constant standby, and is able to be deployed within 12 hours anywhere in the world.
The robot sub, flown to Russia's Far East as oxygen dwindled for the Russian submariners, is operated by a six-strong team, which can pilot it down to a depth of 925 metres at the end of a cable from the surface.
Its cutting equipment can scythe through steel cables up to 70 mm thick, while its features also include radiation-detection equipment, radar and even an underwater telephone system to communicate if necessary with those trapped.
The Scorpio 45 is specifically designed to be transportable by plane. A 29-strong team accompanied it on Friday on board an RAF C-17 plane from Prestwick in Scotland to Petropavlovsk, where it was transferred to a Russian vessel.
Source: China Daily/agencies