August 5, 2005

U.S. Navy subs en route to Russia undersea rescue

By Charles Aldinger

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy dispatched rescue
crews and unmanned submarines to the Russian Far East on Friday
to join an attempt to rescue seven Russian sailors trapped in a
military mini-submarine on the Pacific floor.

Two remote-controlled, deep-diving "Super Scorpio"
submersibles left San Diego for Petropavlovsk on Kamchatka
Peninsula on an Air Force C-5 with a team of 30 Navy operators,
said Jon Yoshishige, a spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

A third Super Scorpio was also to join the effort from
Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington, as were seven
civilian divers from Louisiana with two special suits to allow
dives to extreme depths, he said.

The Super Scorpios, which can cut through steel cables,
will be moved by truck to a Russian ship and taken to the scene
in an attempt to aid in the rescue.

The vessels are 4 feet long, 4 feet wide and 8 feet high
and weigh 4,500 pounds (two tons).
Lt. J.G. Maria Miller, a Navy spokeswoman at the Pentagon, said
they were capable of diving to an ocean depth of 5,000 feet.
"It has the capability of cutting steel cable 1 inch (2.5 cm)
thick," she said.

In Russia, officials said they requested help after the
small Russian submarine apparently became tangled in the cable
from a fishing net.

"We're going to move the resources that we think can be
helpful to the scene as rapidly as possible," Pentagon
spokesman Bryan Whitman told reporters in Washington. He said
the Russian government was leading the rescue effort and had
asked for U.S. assistance.

Whitman noted the U.S. move followed steps by the American
and Russian navies to work more closely in such areas as
undersea rescue. The two militaries conducted a bilateral
undersea rescue exercise in the Mediterranean off the coast of
Italy in June.

"While every situation is certainly unique and presents its
own set of challenges, it's not something that hasn't been
thought through. And it has been rehearsed to some degree and
practiced," the spokesman said.

(Additional reporting by Adam Tanner in San Francisco)