PETROPAVLOVSK-KAMCHATSKY, Russia (AP) – Seven crew members aboard a Russian mini-submarine trapped for three days beneath the Pacific Ocean were pulled to safety Sunday after a British remote-controlled vehicle cut away the undersea cables that had snarled it, Russian naval officials said.

Naval spokesman Capt. Igor Dygalo said the crew appeared to be in satisfactory condition and were being examined by ship medics.

The sub was raised after becoming stranded in 600 feet of water off the Pacific Coast on Thursday.

“The rescue operation has ended,” Rear Adm. Vladimir Pepelyayev, deputy head of the navy’s general staff, said in televised comments.

A British remote-controlled Super Scorpio cut away the cables that had snarled the mini-submarine some 625 feet below the surface off the shore of the Kamchatka Peninsula.

With oxygen supplies dwindling, rescuers raced to bring the 44-foot-long mini-sub to the surface in Beryozovaya Bay, about 10 miles off Kamchatka’s east coast.

Russian authorities had hoped that the British unmanned submersible could help free the sub and avoid losing a sub crew as they did with the Kursk nuclear submarine, which sank almost exactly five years ago, killing all 118 aboard.

The United States also dispatched a crew and three underwater vehicles to Kamchatka, but they never left the port.

In sharp contrast to the August 2000 Kursk disaster, when authorities held off asking for help until hope was nearly exhausted, Russian military officials quickly sought help from U.S. and British authorities.

Officials said the Russian submarine was participating in a combat training exercise and got snarled on an underwater antenna assembly that is part of a coastal monitoring system. The system is anchored with a weight of about 66 tons, according to news reports.

Russia’s cash-strapped navy apparently lacks rescue vehicles capable of operating at the depth where the sub was stranded, and officials say it was too deep for divers to reach or the crew to swim out on their own. An earlier attempt to drag the vessel to shallower waters failed when cables detached after pulling it some 65 yards.

The new crisis indicated that promises by President Vladimir Putin to improve the navy’s equipment apparently have had little effect. He was sharply criticized for his slow response to the Kursk crisis and reluctance to accept foreign assistance.

By early Sunday, Putin had made no public comment on the latest sinking, but Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov had traveled to the site of the rescue operation.

The new crisis is highly embarrassing for Russia, which will hold an unprecedented joint military exercise with China later this month, including the use of submarines to settle an imaginary conflict in a foreign land. In the exercise, Russia is to field a naval squadron and 17 long-haul aircraft.

AP-ES-08-06-05 2356EDT


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