7 Russian submariners rescued

Seven Russians in a submarine stuck on the Pacific bottom were rescued Sunday. They say only 10 hours of oxygen were left to breathe.

Seven drained-looking sailors emerged from the vessel that had held them captive for almost 76 hours Monday after a British rescue robot cut them free in a six-hour, nerve-jangling operation that few Russians thought stood a chance.

In an emotional return to the world above the Pacific's grey obstacle-strewn waters, the mini-sub's commander, Vyacheslav Milashevsky, gave a long solemn salute to an expectant crowd as he came ashore in Russia's far east. His wife Elena said she had never felt so relieved. "I danced. I was glad, I cried and I danced for joy," she told Russian TV.

Sergey Ivanov, Russia's Defence Minister, broke his famously serious demeanour. "Great!" he exclaimed, delightedly shaking a clenched fist when he saw that the stubby red and white mini-sub had surfaced with all seven alive.

He called the survivors heroes, praised the Royal Navy and "the brotherhood of the sea" that had allowed the seven to be saved and set up meetings with the sailors' families, according to Reuters.

Captain Vyacheslav Miloshevsky, the stricken submarine's ranking officer, told reporters before he was whisked to hospital: "We believed until the end that they would save us."

A navy spokesman, Igor Dygalo, told the Guardian: "The mood of the crew is light, thankful, like freed prisoners, you could say."

Captain Miloshevsky's sister-in-law, Svetlana, said he was healthy. "There are no problems, but he's just getting the psychological help anyone would need after so long in such a small space."

The predicament the AS-28 Priz submersible found itself in since a combat training exercise went badly wrong on Thursday could not have been more serious.

The crisis, which began on Thursday but only came to light the following day, stirred up memories of a botched attempt to save a Russian submarine five years ago.

The nuclear-powered Kursk sank in the Barents Sea in August 2000 after two huge underwater explosions. All 118 crew perished in a drama that traumatised Russia.

President Vladimir Putin was criticised for failing to break off a holiday while rescuers battled to reach the doomed crew, Reuters reminds.

This time, in a sign of Kremlin concern, Putin sent Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov to Kamchatka to take charge of the operation.

The Kremlin said Putin had charged Ivanov with investigating the affair, but opposition parties pledged to go further and raise the issue in parliament, suggesting the government might not escape political fall-out from the accident.

See photo report on Russia navy accident

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