British efforts to resque trapped Russian submarine crew hampered by lack of equipment

The British underwater vehicle used in this week's rescue of a trapped Russian submarine could not be deployed right away because Russia did not have the right equipment to unload it from a plane, Britain's military attache said.

The remote-controlled vehicle was flown at Russia's request from Britain to help free the AS-28 mini-submarine that was snared in cables 190 meters (600 feet) underwater off Russia's far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula.

Royal Navy Capt. Jonathan Holloway said British officials had warned Russians that a truck with an adjustable bed would be needed to get the vehicle off the C-17 cargo plane.

"We thought about it, and we said that we would need one," Holloway told The Associated Press. "Of course, we couldn't wait to get the confirmation, because speed was so important."

But when the C-17 arrived near the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatasky such a truck was not available and Russians only had a forklift - a crude vehicle that was unable to unload the delicate Scorpio.

The problem was solved when an American C-5 military cargo plane arrived at the airport with more rescue equipment two hours later. The American plane carried its own loader of the kind that was needed, and its crew lent it to the British team.

"All's well that ends well," said Holloway, who helped coordinate between the British rescue team and Russian officials.

Despite the delay, Holloway praised Russian officials for their assistance and cooperation, saying that the seven-man crew of the AS-28 mini-submarine was saved thanks to quick decision-making and well-coordinated efforts from everyone involved.

Russia's quick decision to seek foreign aid was in sharp contrast to the sinking of the Kursk nuclear submarine in August 2000, when authorities held off asking for outside assistance until hope was nearly exhausted; all 118 crew died.

Speaking at a news conference, Holloway also hailed the Russian navy for quickly providing precise information on position and condition of the mini-sub that was initially trapped on a fishing net and then was entangled around an underwater surveillance antenna.

Russian officials first didn't mention the antenna, but then released the information after their own attempts to snag hold of the submarine and drag it to shallower water failed.

Some Russian media said that the rescue operation could have allowed British and U.S. rescue team a glimpse at the tightly protected naval surveillance system intended to track down foreign submarines.

Holloway said he did not believe that Russians exposed any of their secrets, saying that the British rescue team could see little detail and that it handed over the tape filmed by the Scorpio's camera.

He said that Russian officials told him that only six hours of oxygen remained on the mini-sub at the moment it was rescued on Sunday afternoon, local time, after three days underwater. Russian officials said later that much more oxygen remained on the ship, which Holloway said was plausible.

Air Cmdr. Wilson Metcalfe, a British defense and air attache, said that Britain would not charge Russia any money for the operation, the AP reports.

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