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Thursday, 11 October, 2001, 11:09 GMT 12:09 UK
'I helped raise the Kursk'
Mark in diving gear, with his letter to BBC News Online behind
As the battered Kursk submarine is finally towed back to dock, a British diver who was part of the salvage effort tells his story - from his decompression chamber.

Mark Girdlestone has spent up to a month at a time working 100 metres underwater on the floor of the Barents Sea, off northern Russia.

When he is not working, Mark is confined to a sealed pressurised chamber attached to the support ship to prevent decompression sickness, also known as "the bends".

To interview Mark, we e-mailed questions to his ship. They then passed a print-out to him through a sealed hatch. He wrote out his replies in longhand and passed the pages back. These were then scanned in and e-mailed back. This is what he wrote:

In the past week, we completed the final preparations for the lifting of the Kursk. Tom Wicks [another diver] and I installed the last gripper to the hull on Sunday night.

Raising the submarine
The Kursk was raised with 26 giant steel cables
I am part of a 12-man dive team still onboard the Mayo [the support ship] decompressing to the surface, which will take four days.

Before we left, we were clearing the seabed. In the final dive, the memorial stone was laid and we said a short prayer.

A lot of the divers and crew are ex-armed forces and felt an affinity for the Russian sailors lost on the Kursk and to those we have been working with.

When the Kursk was finally raised, I felt pleased, relieved and proud of a job well done. I also felt we had helped the relatives of the lost Russian sailors.

The port of Roslyakovo in Russia
Towing the barge - with the Kursk suspended below the waves - into the port of Roslyakovo, near Murmansk
Each working day involved a seven-hour bell run. There were four teams with three divers in each, so we could cover 24 hours in the water.

At the end of each shift, we came back to the diving bell which was sealed at seabed pressure and then winched back to the ship through a hole in the centre.

Diver entering bell
A diver enters the bell that transports them to and from the sea floor
It was then clamped to the ship's diving system, a chamber which was also at seabed pressure.

This was where we ate, slept and got cleaned up. We passed our wet dive gear and equipment out of the chamber, where the life support personnel dried and serviced it. They also arranged our meals, monitored the life support systems and saw to our needs.

To stay in touch with family and friends, our support vessel has fax and e-mail facilities. We were also kept up to date on world events these facilities, although the details can be sketchy at times. We found out about the events of 11 September from print-outs from BBC News Online.

I expect to return to the UK sometime next week onboard the Mayo, and am looking forward to seeing my family and helping with our dive shop in Essex.

I made many Russian friends onboard the Mayo, who I will keep in contact with and who I hope to visit in St Petersburg next year with my wife.

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See also:

10 Oct 01 | Europe
01 Aug 01 | Europe
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