Message found in doomed sub

Los Angeles Times and Associated Press

MOSCOW – Lt. Capt. Dmitry Kolesnikov began life with a legacy of the sea. He ended it upholding the sea’s traditions.

Huddled in the cramped aft section of the Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, with death closing in on him and his men, Kolesnikov began to take notes, as if in a log book. And he did it in strict maritime fashion, starting and ending with the time.

By the end, the light was failing along with his strength. “I’m writing blindly,” he scrawled finally, and then closed with what appears to be the time on the 24-hour military clock: “13:5.” Only the last digit was missing.

Kolesnikov, 27, commanded the turbine section of the submarine, which sank Aug. 12 in the Barents Sea after a still-unexplained explosion in its bow area. The disaster killed all 118 submariners aboard the Kursk.

Kolesnikov’s body was one of four recovered by a Russian-Norwegian diving team after five days of painstaking work this week to cut holes in the top of the submarine. The note, made public Thursday, was tucked in his pocket.

The message was the first firm evidence that any of the crew initially survived explosions that shattered the submarine. Kolesnikov’s note was written on both sides of the paper: one side was technical information and, on the back, Kolesnikov wrote what navy officials described as a “very personal” note to his wife. Those contents were not released.

Written a few hours after the sub plunged to the bottom of the Barents Sea, the note tells a horrifying story in eerily straightforward sentences.

“All the crew from the sixth, seventh and eighth compartments went over to the ninth. There are 23 people here. We made this decision as a result of the accident,” Russian navy chief Adm. Vladimir Kuroyedov on Thursday quoted the note as saying.

“None of us can get to the surface,” the message continued.

Kolesnikov’s handwriting in the first part of the note was neat, Kuroyedov said during a meeting with the victims’ relatives. But after the submarine’s emergency lights went out, the officer began to scrawl and desperation set in.

“I am writing blindly,” Kuroyedov quoted the latter part of the note as saying.

The note appeared to shed no light on the cause of the Aug. 12 sinking but confirmed the worst fears of some of the families of the victims: that their loved ones were alive for some time, perhaps just a few hours, after the accident and likely died a slow, painful death while waiting for help that never arrived.

“It’s painful; enormously painful. I had this feeling that my husband didn’t die immediately. Now that it has been confirmed it hurts a lot,” Kolesnikov’s widow, Olga, stammered through tears in a televised news conference Thursday. “I want to see him one more time. I want to read his letter.”

The Russian government has been widely criticized at home for a slow and seemingly confused response to the disaster. Russian mini-submarines tried unsuccessfully for days to open the Kursk’s escape hatch. There were reports that noises from the wreckage could have come from trapped sailors banging on the hull.

“Before he went on this last mission, he left this at home,” Kolesnikov’s widow said, showing a set of military dog tags with a silver cross hanging around her neck. “I don’t know why.”

“And shortly before taking to sea, he wrote me this poem,” she continued:

When the hour comes for me to die

Although I try not to think about it

I would like to whisper just this:

My beloved, how much I love you!

Copyright ©2000 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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