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Thursday, 26 October, 2000, 19:15 GMT 20:15 UK
Kursk victims' slow death
A note found on one of the four bodies raised from the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk reveals that at least 23 people remained alive after explosions killed most of the crew.

The letter gives a brief account of the disaster and reveals that survivors of the initial explosion fled towards the rear compartments of the sub after the initial blast.

Lieutenant Dmitry Kolesnikov
Lieutenant Kolesnikov: "None of us can get to the surface"
The note contradicts official statements in the wake of the disaster that none of the Kursk's 118 crew survived the explosions which tore through the boat's forward sections.

The note's writer has been identified as Lieutenant-Captain Dmitry Kolesnikov, whose body was one of four recovered by divers searching the submarine's eighth and ninth compartments on Wednesday.

Click here for graphic of Kursk recovery mission

Harsh Arctic weather has now forced the divers to suspend their efforts to recover more bodies from the wreck, which lies at a depth of 108 metres (355ft) at the bottom of the Barents Sea.

The Russian authorities came under a torrent of criticism from bereaved relatives and the country's media for failing to give accurate information when the Kursk sank and for delaying an international rescue attempt.

Officials have not released the full text of the note, saying only that it contains personal messages that will be passed on to Lieutenant Kolesnikov's family.

'I am writing blindly'

The part that was released reads: "All the crew from the sixth, seventh and eighth compartments went over to the ninth. There are 23 people here. We made the decision because of the accident. None of us can get to the surface."

Kursk widows Irina Shubina (left) and Oksana Silogova
Two widows of Kursk officers visited the Norwegian diving platform
It ends with the stark words: "I am writing blindly."

The Kursk - one of the Russian navy's most advanced submarines - sank on 12 August after two mysterious explosions ripped through it. All 118 sailors on board perished.

Investigators, who are hopeful of finding further messages, believe the note could provide vital insight into the causes and immediate aftermath of the disaster.

Harsh conditions

Divers managed to enter the sub after cutting two windows in its outer hull, but bad weather and has hampered efforts to recover bodies.

Piece of the Kursk's hull
Investigators examine a piece of the shattered sub's hull
The divers also face danger from the intense cold, pitch darkness and jagged metal debris inside the wreck, which could puncture their survival suits.

Three divers at a time - two Russians and a Norwegian - are involved in each phase of the recovery operation. The team, numbering 18, is operating from the Norwegian Regalia diving platform.

Only the Russians are scheduled to go inside, as the Norwegian monitors their progress from a diving bell.

A remote-control TV camera is being used to study conditions inside the submarine and divers are also keeping a close eye on radiation levels.

Analysis of water samples taken at the weekend showed the levels to be normal.

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The BBC's Steve Rosenburg in Murmansk
"Attempts have been made to try to flush the ninth compartment."
The Kursk submarine accident

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26 Oct 00 | Europe
24 Oct 00 | Europe
21 Oct 00 | Europe
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