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Race Against Time To Save Russian Sub Crew

Prague, 6 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. and British rescue teams have arrived in Russia's Far East to try to save the crew of a submarine stranded at the bottom of the Pacific. Time is running out for the seven sailors, who have limited air supplies left.

The rescue operation has become international, with British and U.S. specialists equipped with unmanned rescue subs
having arrived today in Russia's far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula. They are reportedly making their way to the accident site near the town of Petropavlovsk-Kamachatskii.

Hopes are now increasingly pinned on this outside help, though the Russians are continuing their own operation to rescue the sailors.

A top Russian admiral said today the crew has enough oxygen to last until 9 August. Earlier officials had said the supply could run out by tomorrow.

Viktor Fedorov told NTV television the navy is now trying to raise the sub closer to the surface so that divers can rescue the crew.

"We still have according to our calculations all the daylight hours of tomorrow. I assure you, work is continuing today without interruption and it will not stop until we actually lift our boys up to the surface," he said.

The sub was reportedly seeking to repair a sonar system that monitors U.S. and other submarines when it got entangled on 4 August.

Russian media have drawn critical comparisons to the "Kursk." That Russian nuclear submarine sank almost exactly five years ago, killing 118 sailors.

Russian Navy Rear Admiral Vladimir Pepelyaev said earlier that the sub was towed a short distance overnight. "As you know we moved it 100 meters towards the coast and we then marked the site with buoys," he said. "A special vessel is getting ready now to bring it to the surface."

The U.S. and British planes have both brought underwater rescue vehicles known as Scorpios. These unmanned mini-submarines aren't designed to rescue people. But they are designed to cut through metal cables, and the hope is they can cut away the obstructions that will allow the submarine to float to the surface.

Still, it will take them several hours to reach the scene.

Speaking in California, Commander Kent Van Horn of the U.S. Navy's deep submergence unit said it is a race against time. "We understand the time-critical situation we are in and we are doing everything we can to get there as quickly as we possibly can," Van Horn said. "And if the Russians are unable to free the vessel before we get there then we will be able to do with our Scorpio units."

(RFE/RL's Russian Service/news agencies/

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