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Second Kursk Sailor Wrote Note Before Dying

Disaster: 'We're weakened by the effects of carbon monoxide from the fire,' unnamed crewman said. Cause of the accident is still in dispute.


MOSCOW — A second trapped sailor on the doomed Kursk submarine left behind a note, Russian officials disclosed Wednesday, but the revelation raised more questions than it answered.

In contrast to the release of the first note, officials didn't say which of the crew members wrote the second missive or when it was recovered. They also didn't explain why officials waited at least several days and perhaps more than a week to reveal the discovery.

Deputy Prime Minister Ilya Klebanov said the second message largely repeated information already gleaned from a note written by Lt. Capt. Dmitry Kolesnikov--that at least 23 sailors were trapped in the rear of the submarine for several hours after the Aug. 12 accident, hoping to find a way out. They are believed to have died shortly thereafter.

The only new detail the note offered, according to Klebanov's account, was that carbon monoxide had built up in the cramped compartment as the result of a fire. During the salvage operation, divers had noted charring on some equipment and Kolesnikov's family said last week that an autopsy determined he had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

"We feel bad. . . . We're weakened by the effects of carbon monoxide from the fire," Klebanov paraphrased the new note as saying. "The pressure is increasing in the compartment. . . . If we head for the surface, we won't survive the compression."

The Russian government commission investigating the accident met Wednesday to review evidence but didn't reach a conclusion on what caused the catastrophe, which left all 118 sailors dead.

Klebanov insisted that investigators have "serious videotaped evidence" supporting the theory that the sub sank as a result of a collision with a foreign vessel, probably one of three submarines in the area at the time--two American, one British. Both countries have denied that their subs collided with the Kursk.

Klebanov said the evidence includes video footage of the hull showing large dents and long scratches consistent with the theory.

U.S. officials have said the most likely cause was an on-board explosion. Two blasts were recorded at the time of the accident, and Western experts have speculated that a torpedo in the forward weapons bay exploded, igniting a much larger second blast as the rest of the missiles detonated.

Russian and Western analysts have said that Russian navy officials appear reluctant to believe that the loss of the Kursk--one of the newest and finest submarines in its fleet--could be blamed on mechanical or crew error.

In an interview on state television, Klebanov repeated that three main scenarios are under investigation: an on-board emergency, a collision with a stray mine, or a collision with another vessel. He said investigators have already ruled out crew error or a torpedo misfiring. Some media reports have said the Kursk was scheduled to test a new model of torpedo with a volatile liquid-fuel propulsion system.

"We studied the materials" gathered by investigators, Klebanov said, "and we've rejected [the theory] of crew error, despite the fact that many nonspecialists were trying to highlight this theme and raise suspicion about a new [type of] torpedo. There was nothing of the kind there."

He said that the crew's logbooks have been recovered but that they offered no clue to the cause of the disaster.

Klebanov said plans are already being drawn up for a salvage operation to raise the entire sub from the sea floor. He said foreign firms would probably take part, including Dallas-based Halliburton Co., which coordinated the diving operation to retrieve the bodies that ended Tuesday.

The operation would probably take place next spring or summer, and a final determination on the cause of the accident will probably have to wait until then.

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