Kursk – How a Russian Submarine Was Tragically Lost: Since Sunday, the ongoing massive search and research effort to locate the OceanGate submersible in the North Atlantic has monopolized headlines.
Five passengers entered the vessel to explore the wreck of the Titanic early Sunday morning, losing contact with the surface one hour and 45 minutes into its descent.
As of Tuesday, the international effort to rescue the vessel has covered roughly 10,000 square miles. Since the submersible is only equipped with enough air supply to last another day, the imminent discovery of the Titan is necessary for the crew’s survival. When this news story first broke, previous submarine mishaps have come to light.
Perhaps one of the most tragic military submarine accidents is the K-141 Kursk disaster, a 2000 Russian naval exercise that left 118 dead.
Explaining the Kursk Submarine Disaster
On August 12, 2000, the Russian Oscar II-class submarine designated the K-141 Kursk sank in an accident in the Barents Sea. The tragic incident occurred during a Russian war game involving the country’s Northern Fleet. In fact, this particular exercise was the first of its kind to take place in more than a decade.
The “Summer-X” military drills went awry when the Kursk was tasked to simulate an attack on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier and the battlecruiser Pyotr Velikiy in order to evaluate how well the submarine could fare against an American carrier battle group incursion.
During the drill, the Kursk was fully armed with Granit missiles and torpedoes. In the late morning on the 12th, two underwater explosions rocked the Summer-X area, both recorded by a Norwegian seismic monitoring station. The second blast was so large that it reportedly shook the 28,000-ton Pyotr Velikiy battlecruiser, according to a Russian account.
Following the explosions, the Kursk sank nearly 354 feet below the surface. As detailed by Popular Mechanics, a large gash in the Kursk’s forward bow was caused by one of the explosions. “A Russian Navy board of inquiry later determined that one of the submarine’s Type 65-76A super heavyweight torpedoes had exploded, causing the gash. The explosion was likely caused by a faulty weld that failed to hold the hydrogen peroxide fuel chamber together.”
The spontaneous ignition and subsequent fire that erupted on board caused the second explosion, which is likely what killed the majority of the Kursk’s crew.
Disturbingly, 23 crew members are believed to have survived the initial blasts. However, due to a delayed rescue effort, they ultimately were killed. Lt. Captain Dmitiri Koselnikov, one of the vessel’s officers, wrote a note dated two hours post the second explosion detailing the survivors. “I am writing blind,” he wrote. “It’s 13:15. All personnel from sections six, seven and eight have moved to section nine. There are 23 people here. We have made the decision because none of us can escape.”
Russian president Vladimir Putin was vacationing at the time of the incident, failing to accept international aid to rescue the Kursk in the immediate hours following the sinking.
The next two days will be critical for the Titan and the safety of its five passengers. Hopefully, the wide-scale collaborative efforts to locate the submersible will be successful.
Maya Carlin, a Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.