Page last updated at 15:38 GMT, Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Crew 'fought to save submariners'

HMS Tireless in the Arctic

Submariners battled for 40 minutes to try to rescue two trapped colleagues after an explosion under ice 200 miles north of Alaska, an inquest has heard.

Mechanics Anthony Huntrod, 20, from Sunderland, and Paul McCann, 32, from Halesowen, West Midlands, died on an exercise on HMS Tireless in March 2007.

An inquest, due to last for six weeks, opened in Sunderland on Tuesday.

Coroner Derek Winter told the hearing one of the Devonport-based vessel's oxygen generators had exploded.

Mr Winter, coroner for Sunderland, said: "This was a traumatic and terrifying event for all on board the submarine."

The generator, one of several hundred on board, was activated by the two submariners dropping a chemical briquette into a container, causing oxygen to be released.

The inquest is expected to last for six weeks

It exploded immediately after they started the process, according to stores accountant Richard Holleworth who was working in the same area.

The inquest heard the compartment filled with smoke and the blast caused hatch doors to close and buckle, trapping the two men.

A rescue party arrived moments later.

Mr Winter said: "The evidence is that they worked very hard to gain access, however it took 40 minutes to break open the doors."

Mr Holleworth gave first aid but his resuscitation attempts failed, the coroner said.

Defective stock

The submarine surfaced through a patch of thin ice and the bodies were taken to a nearby ice station.

Post-mortem examinations revealed Mr Huntrod died from multiple injuries and Mr McCann of carbon monoxide poisoning.

The inquest also heard from Royal Navy investigator Lt Andy Billings, who said tests showed the self-contained oxygen generators (scogs) could be dangerous if not stored carefully and kept in perfect condition.

He said 21% of the vessel's unused stock of 730 scogs had subsequently been shown to be defective.

Submariner Anthony Huntrod, left, and leading operator mechanic Paul McCann
Anthony Huntrod, left, and Paul McCann died in the explosion

The officer produced an example of a scog, weighing 25lb (11.5kg) and looking like a shiny metal flask.

Each one had a seal at the top which was removed before it was fired, setting off a chemical reaction to produce oxygen as well as a lot of heat, the coroner heard.

HMS Tireless's commanding officer, Capt Iain Breckenridge, said the vessel carried both scogs for use on exercise and escape scogs which were untouchable.

He said he did not know exactly where they were stored, but that he trusted his crew to make sure the vessel was in order.

He added: "We had on board a large number of scogs because we were operating under ice. We were carrying extras.

"Had it not been for the incident, we would have been under ice for another two weeks.

"There is not a lot of storage room on a sub so when you are packing up to go on a long deployment you use every little space available."

He said some of the scogs had been kept in the former potato store at the fore of the ship but he could not remember exactly where they all were.

"Being the captain, you are dealing with a lot of bits and pieces and you trust the ship's company to do things correctly. My team let me know things were in order," he added.

The inquest is being heard at Sunderland's Regus Centre without a jury.

Graphic of HMS Tireless

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