MYSTERY OF THE KURSK UNWRAPPED, BUT THE PUBLIC KEPT IN THE DARK

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Viktor Baranets Komsomolskaya Pravda, November 29, 2001, p. 8

A so-called fat torpedo malfunctioned, something in it caused a catastrophic chemical reaction of the components (hydrogen peroxide and kerosene). Kursk commander Gennadi Lyachin sent a message to headquarters requesting permission to fire the torpedo – but it was too late. The fat torpedo blew up in the torpedo mechanism. Enlisted men made it to Compartment Two but failed – or did not have the time – to close the door. The second explosion, the fatal one, rocked the submarine several seconds later.

Question: Dmitry Aleksandrovich, why the second explosion?

Dmitry Vlasov: Containers with hydrogen peroxide and kerosene were burning on the faulty torpedo. One torpedo fuse contained explosives highly sensitive to fire. The temperature rose to 2,100 degrees and the torpedo blew up.

Question: When do you think the front compartment will be salvaged?

Dmitry Vlasov: I do not think it ever will. Even if it is salvaged, however, information will be minimal.

Question: Why is that?

Dmitry Vlasov: Because everything in it is smashed. There is nothing there that could add any more information on what happened to the Kursk. The torpedo could not have exploded all by itself. Perhaps the crew made a mistake, something that caused the ignition of the hydrogen peroxide/kerosene mixture. There were no inflammable materials in the torpedo compartment, only metal. At the same time, there can be no doubts anymore that the emergency occurred because hydrogen peroxide mixed with kerosene.

Question: What followed the explosion of five fat torpedoes?

Dmitry Vlasov: Fire raged unchecked through Compartments Two, Three, and Four. The Norwegians and acoustics of the Pyotr Veliky cruiser registered it clearly. Even the Americans in Alaska recorded it. The pressure leaped to 100,000 – 150,000 atmospheres. That’s what it was like in the front compartments.

The partition between Compartments One and Two never stood a chance. Do not forget that the explosion occurred in a closed space. Submarine is a airtight system surrounded with stainless nonmagnetic steel. When the explosion occurred, the blast streaked across the compartment. The blast gets reflected by the walls and amplifies up to eight times its original strength. Eight times! The heat of the explosion never went into the water as it happens when a torpedo is fired. It was contained within the enclosed system that is submarine. This is what is called the adiabatic process. The heat went to partitions up to those of Compartment Five. These partitions are built to withstand 10 atmospheres only, pitifully insignificant for an explosion this strong. It was an avalanche of fire, temperatures instantly rising to 4,500 – 4,800 degrees. Even metal melts at 1,200 degrees…

Question: You mean Compartment Two was burnt out in a matter of seconds?

Dmitry Vlasov: Yes. Compartments Two, Three, and Four.

Question: Who was there in Compartment Two save for the torpedo men who came there?

Dmitry Vlasov: Almost all Kursk commanders, staff officers, hands manning their stations… They never even felt anything, much less understood what was happening. It took just thousandths of a second. Death is inevitable when pressure is three atmospheres. In the Kursk, it was between 20 and 40 atmospheres. Heart valves burst instantly. That’s what happened to the men the blast and the fire caught in front compartments.

Question: How many seconds did it take to burn out Compartment Two?

Dmitry Vlasov: Less than a second. It was the most “populated” compartment, the brain of the submarine. The men there never understood anything or had time to feel anything.

Question: And where did the fiery flow stop?

Dmitry Vlasov: At the partition between Compartments Four and Five. This one is supposed to withstand a 40 atmosphere blast and even a bit more.

Question: Everything burned out down to Compartment Five?

Dmitry Vlasov: Yes. Only what withstands intense heat was left there: tooth fillings, buttons, the crosses they wore around their necks, chains…

Question: What about Compartments Five and Five-Bis?

Dmitry Vlasov: This is where guided and other missiles are in their tubes. That is why the partition between Compartments Four and Five is literally strategic for the whole submarine. That is why the blast stopped there without damaging missiles and their containers.

Question: And Compartment Six?

Dmitry Vlasov: It contains two nuclear reactors located side by side. Ordinarily, there should not be any hands there.

Question: And who was manning their stations in Compartments Seven and Eight?

Dmitry Vlasov: Crewmembers who service the reactors, take care of steam generators, reducers, etc. They felt the explosion. The submarine shuddered. The explosion tore into pieces the aft different tank, and the hydraulic blow rushed to the stern tearing apart the pipe along the way.

Question: What is that?

Dmitry Vlasov: The pipe connects the front and stern tanks.

Question: There is a hatch between Compartments Seven and Eight. Why wasn’t it closed?

Dmitry Vlasov: No one cared. The men realized what had happened. Men in Compartment Eight did not want to leave their friends in Compartment Seven to die. The hatch was left open, all survivors got to Compartment Eight and then to Nine. When they got to the upper deck, water was following them already and gases began exploding. The gases came through the different pipe and other routes. That’s how the gases got to the upper deck of Compartment Nine.

Question: What were the crewmembers doing?

Dmitry Vlasov: Fighting to stay alive. Trying to put on diving suits to escape the submarine through the emergency hatch. Even had they managed to pry it open, however, survival in diving suits at such depths is highly problematic.

Captain Dmitry Kolesnikov wrote his last message then, the one that was never published in full. I repeat, in full. He wrote how the first deck was flooded, how the survivors got to the second deck, and how scorching gases followed…

He described everything the survivors did or tried to do in Compartment Nine, how water started coming through the pipe, driving the men to upper decks… how scorching gases followed… Several men tried to open the emergency hatch. It had become stuck when the submarine was deformed by explosions. When the Kursk hit the seabed, the hatch became hopelessly stuck.

Kolesnikov also wrote that one survivor started sending out Mayday signals by striking the hatch with some piece of metal.

Question: Did he identify that man?

Dmitry Vlasov: No. Acoustics on the Pyotr Veliky heard the Mayday. And top brass told the public afterwards that they had received the Mayday signal but mistook them for signals from a foreign submarine, the one that allegedly collided with the Kursk and was itself damaged. The one that limped out of the collision area and started calling for help. I don’t buy that.

Acoustics on the Pyotr Veliky must have known the coordinates of the area the signals were coming from. They were coming from the dying Kursk.

Question: The disaster was reported to Moscow only in 12 hours…

Dmitry Vlasov: You want my opinion and attitude? Same as that of any person who cannot make head or tail of the reasoning of Vice Admiral Motsak. Had the naval rescue forces been deployed immediately – around noon – the submarine would have been found at about 4 p.m. that same day, not at 4 a.m. on August 13. When the survivors still had two or three hours to live. I mean the ones in the stern compartments.

On the other hand, I know the technical condition of the deep-sea craft of the Northern Fleet all too well. Hence my lack of optimism.

Question: How did the men in Compartment Nine die?

Dmitry Vlasov: When the Norwegians pried open the emergency hatch above Compartment Nine, they took a plastic bag, at the Russians’ request, and put it on the hatch. Gases started coming up. They filled the bag which was tied up, lifted, and sent to experts in St. Petersburg. For analysis.

Question: What were these gases?

Dmitry Vlasov: Components of plastic. There were lots of plastic things in Compartment Nine. They melted – which means temperatures at the third deck had been 220 degrees or higher. Humans cannot withstand temperatures like that, particularly without oxygen.

Question: How long did it take?

Dmitry Vlasov: According to my calculations, 5-7 hours from the time when water and gases first appeared in Compartment Nine.

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