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British help in the nick of time

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Russia, Aug. 7 (Reuters): Seven Russians trapped for three days deep in the Pacific with dwindling oxygen were saved with British help on Sunday when rescuers cut their mini-submarine free of tangled cables.

“Today was a very happy event. The intensive work to free our submarine at a depth of 200 metres brought results ... Our comrades in the crew opened the hatch themselves,” said Admiral Viktor Fyodorov, commander of Russia’s Pacific Fleet. “They behaved valiantly over these 76 hours under water, we heard no complaints, all we heard was that they were fine... It is worth living for these moments.”

The seven submariners walked steadily off their rescue ship down a gangway to a waiting crowd in the port of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, where many people had feared air supplies would fail before the men could be rescued.

Lieutenant Vyacheslav Milashevsky led the crew down the gangway after standing straight-backed to salute the crowd.

“Yes, of course,” he said, when asked if he had always believed he would be saved. The crew then boarded a minibus to go to hospital for medical checks.

The rescue of the AS-28, itself a rescue vehicle, was made possible by a British Scorpio underwater robot flown out to the scene, which severed the cables tangled around it.

Underwater footage aired on Russian television showed pieces of net wrapped tightly around the red-and-white-striped submarine’s propeller, and the Scorpio pulling them away.

“There were a lot of difficulties involved. But it was extremely rewarding and it wouldn’t have been possible without the superb cooperation of the Russian Navy,” Commander Ian Riches, who led the British rescue team, told Reuters.

“We went down using our cameras and our sonar and located the mini-sub near the sea bed tangled up in a quite considerable mess of fishing nets,” he said. “It was wrapped around her propeller and wrapped around her as well.”

US divers also helped in the rescue, while Japanese ships were steaming to the scene.

Officers had said they might only have Sunday left to rescue the men stuck on board the AS-28, which was snarled up in fishing nets and the antenna of an underwater listening station, because of their limited air supply.

Riches said the seven sailors on board had a maximum of six hours air to spare by the time their craft was raised to the surface.

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