A Russian Delta-IV submarine in the Barents Sea. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

«Submariners could have been saved»

The explosion that killed 14 of Russia’s most experienced submarine sailors took place as special purpose sub «Losharik» (AS-31) was about to connect with its mother ship.
July 25, 2019

The sailors were about to return to base after training when the fire broke out in the battery compartment, Kommersant reports. The newspaper has talked with sources close to the ongoing investigation of the accident.

The exercise was reportedly the last before an upcoming combat mission. It took place in the Motovsky Bay, near the Peninsula of Rybachii, possibly only about 50 km from the border to Norway.

This is shooting and training ground for the Northern Fleet, Kommersant reports.

Smoke started to erupt from the vessel’s battery compartment as the advanced special purpose submarine was to connect with far bigger mother ship «Podmoskovie».

In its initial phase, the fire probably did not pose any serious threat to the lives of the submarines. According to the sources of the Kommersant, the crew could easily have evacuated through the airlock chamber of carrier ship «Podmoskovie».

In that case, all men would have saved their lives.

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Instead, they all fought to extinguish the fire.

According to Kommersant, four of the 14 men killed were part of the crew of the «Podmoskovie». The sailors joined the 10 men onboard the «Losharik» as they were trying to help them evacuate after all available breathing devices had been used up.

In that phase of the incident, a powerful blast in the battery compartment is believed to have taken place, and that ultimately killed them all.

Investigations have shown that the submariners on board the «Losharik» had used up all the breathing devices available. All men onboard had personal portable devices which provided at least 20 minutes with oxygen access. In addition, the sailors had used also the available hosepipes that provided air from tanks with high pressure.

Also all fire extinguishing equipment onboard had been used up, the investigators have concluded.

When the men started to lose their consciousness the ship commander reportedly requested permission to evacuate to the «Podmoskovie», Kommersant writes.

The fire onboard the «Losharik» (AS-31) broke out in the evening of 1 July. Among the 14 sailors that died were two highly decorated Heroes of Russia, seven 1st rang captains and three 2nd rang captains. The crew included some of the the most experienced men in the Russian Navy.

Two of the dead come from Murmansk. The remaining parts of the crew came from St. Petersburg.

According to Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu, also a representative of the Russian military-industrial complex was onboard the «Losharik» when the fire started. However, this man was «in a heroic manner» evacuated to the mother ship.

Local fishermen were eye witnesses to the ship when it suddenly surfaced near the Ura Bay, about 100 km east of the border to Norway.

«We were heading towards Kildin, and then, about half past nine in the evening, a submarine surfaces. Suddenly and completely surfaces. I have never seen anything like it in my life. On the deck, people were running around and making fuss,» one of the fishermen told SeverPost.

The «Losharik» is normally based in Oleniya Bay, and operated by the Main Directorate for Deep Sea Research, nicknamed GUGI, a branch directly under General Staff of the Armed Forces.

The vessel is believed to be able to bring - or remove - other small installations and devices for military purposes to be placed on the sea floor. Such devices can be noice-makers to distract foreign submarines when Russian submarines sail out from the Kola Peninsula to the North Atlantic. Other listening devices can detect sounds made by the propellers of enemy ships.  The submarine has one nuclear reactor.

The “Losharik” is about 70 meters long and is normally carried by mother ship “Podmoskovie”, a far bigger rebuilt Delta-IV class submarine

It is the worst accident in the Russian Navy since 2008. According to local media, a memorial plate with the names of the sailors of the «Losharik» might be added to the memorial site of the «Kursk», the submarine that wrecked in year 2000 killing all 118 men onboard.

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