Operation to recover bodies of Kursk crewmen
On September 19, 2000, the President of Russia took the decision to lift the bodies of dead sailors from SSN Kursk. A contract was signed between Rubin and Norway’s Halliburton, the latter sending in the Regalia whose crew, jointly with Russian deep-water divers, were due to lift the bodies. In the evening of October 20, the day of Regalia’s arrival, the participants in the operation were joined by Navy C-in-C Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov and Northern Fleet commander Admiral Vyacheslav Popov, the latter appointed head of the operation. The Northern Fleet’s rescue ship Altai brought to Regalia the technical equipment stipulated in the contract.
A temporary forensic laboratory was set up in Severomorsk to examine the bodies and a group of military forensic experts was flown in from Moscow.
At 1 a.m. on October 21, Russian and Norwegian divers descended from Regalia to SSN Kursk that had sunk in the Barents Sea at the depth of 108 meters. The underwater works began with the examination and preparation of the sub’ hull for the cutting of technological “windows,” through which it was intended to lift the bodies.
There were 18 divers participating in the operation, who worked in groups of three, with one representative of Halliburton and two Russians in each.
The divers discovered that the first and second compartments were completely destroyed. They failed to penetrate the third compartment on account of zero visibility and considerable wreckage. Insurmountable piles of debris were found in the fourth compartment, where divers were able to advance a mere two meters and had to quit all further attempts at exploration. It was decided not to tamper with the fifth compartment. An analysis of the available data indicated that the sailors might have been on the lower deck of the fifth compartment, where a diver could not penetrate anyway because of the small size (60 x 60 cm) of its only hatch. Besides, the fifth compartment is one of the sub’s strength points and the cutting of technological apertures in its walls and thereabouts was likely to play havoc with the solidity of the hull and call into question the Kursk lifting operation scheduled for 2001.
The body recovery operation was wrapped up on November 7, 2000, in keeping with the decision of a meeting Rubin representatives and operation heads held aboard the Regalia Tuesday. Divers sealed Kursk’s hatches.
Twelve bodies of crewmen were lifted in the course of the 19-day operation, all of them identified.