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Monday, 21 August, 2000, 07:06 GMT 08:06 UK
What Britain's rescue sub can do

The British mini-submarine which has joined the rescue operation in the Barents sea has been described by its operators as being like an underwater helicopter.

The LR5 is highly manoeuvrable and can hover, travel up, down or laterally in order to reach its target. Once in position, it can attach itself to a larger submarine and evacuate anything up to 16 crew members at a time.

LR5 Rescue submarine
Two pilots
One rescue chamber operator
Holds 16 sailors
Max depth 460m
Run by the UK Royal Navy Submarine Rescue System
Built in 1978 by Slingsby Engineering at a cost of $12m
Kept on 12 hours standby at a base near Glasgow, in Scotland
But the British craft has never been used in a real rescue situation before.

The LR5 is manned by three crew members - two pilots and a rescue chamber operator.

Travelling with the rescue mission are 34 personnel including doctors, divers, and interpreters.

The mission is also equipped to launch a remote operated vehicle to clear any debris and perform initial reconnaissance ahead of the LR5.

Perry Slingsby Systems LR5 rescue vessel
The 'underwater helicopter' can operate in severe weather

The weather

The head of the British rescue mission, navy Commander Alan Hoskins, says bad weather should not affect the LR5's ability to operate.

He told the BBC that during the rescue operation the mission's large mother ship should be able to create a degree of shelter for the LR5 as it is lowered below the sea surface.

We've got to be optimistic. There's always a chance. An operation like this is never straightforward.

Commander Hoskins
The LR5 is propelled by two rotors and two hydraulic thrusters that allow it to move in any direction, and it is designed to operate with accuracy in currents of up to 2.5 knots.

Once released, the LR5 descends independently to the Kursk where it will attempt to dock, or "mate" with the stranded submarine.

Once the LR5 reaches the Kursk, it attempts the following docking sequence:

  • A transfer skirt is lowered from the underside of the LR5 and fixed to the escape hatch of the Kursk

  • Water is pumped out of the skirt to equalise the pressure in the skirt and the submarine

  • Rescuers can then enter the Kursk, and survivors can board the LR5

The front of the LR5 holds cutting and grinding equipment, as well as sophisticated lights and cameras that are able to penetrate the murkiest waters.

A docking collar at the back of the LR5, an alternative to the transfer skirt, allows it to dock with most kinds of larger submarine.

Getting into the Kursk

According to the UK Ministry of the Defence the rescue hatch on the Kursk is of a standard Soviet model.

The LR5 has successfully docked with a Polish submarine that had a similar hatch.

After the initial docking, the rescue team will be in a position to assess the situation inside the Kursk, and to bring oxygen and medical equipment onto the Russian submarine.

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16 Aug 00 | Scotland
UK sub rescue flight takes off
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