Which Russian submarine had a tragic end?

Kursk submarine Unsuccessful rescue in retrospect

All technical means were there, but none was saved.

Anette Mikes sums up the failed rescue operation after the sinking of the Kursk 14 years ago to sum up this short denominator. In a new study, the native Hungarian and professor at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland is now reopening the tragic case.

Why was it not possible to rescue the surviving sailors from the bottom of the Barents Sea? She wondered. There the wreck was on board after two explosions. In an attainable depth.

"All the prerequisites for a successful rescue were there! The Russians knew where the wreck was. The Norwegians sent divers down. They confirmed that it would be possible to dock at the hatch in the rescue tower of the submarine. And the British were with them a mini submarine on site, which they called an underwater helicopter - because of its great maneuverability. It would have been able to carry out the rescue. From that point of view it is absolutely incomprehensible that it did not happen!

The risk management expert spoke to David Russell, the UK Rescue Services commander. And she evaluated various reports on the action. For them, failure has several reasons:

"The Russian officers had no authority of their own. Every decision had to be approved by a higher authority. This may be useful in routine operations. However, it delays decision-making processes and is not very helpful in novel situations when quick action is required Kursk, the Russian navy has even strengthened its authoritarian command structure. This phenomenon is known from industrial and organizational psychology. Under strong pressure, organizations tend to become even more centralized. "

Too much stress - for Anette Mikes this can also explain what, in retrospect, seems completely incomprehensible.

David Russell had pulled out all the stops to get the British rescue submarine to the scene of the accident. But it was never launched. Russell's counterpart on the Russian side, an admiral, refused to even look at it. With his own mini-submarines, he had not yet been able to moor to the Kursk's escape hatch - despite several days of attempts. This was due to technical deficiencies in the Russian submersible such as insufficient battery life.

"This admiral was under enormous pressure. Around 30 ships anchored at the scene of the accident, the entire Russian Navy watched the unsuccessful rescue efforts. Under such conditions, what is called cognitive narrowing in stress theory. The admiral always tried again with his own rescue team. He too clung to familiar routines instead of seizing the opportunity that came from outside and trying something different, as would have been necessary in this case. "

When another Russian admiral gave the British the go-ahead, on the 8th day after the disaster, it was too late. The Kursk's escape hatch opened because the submarine was now completely flooded. There was no one left to free.

The British may also have made a big mistake. It is true that David Russell started the whole British relief operation in the first place. And yet, in the end, he may not have been the right officer in the right place

"Russell used to spy on the Russians as a submarine driver in the Barents Sea. That is why it must have been difficult for the other side to trust him - that he really only wants to save lives."

For Anette Mikes, this is an important lesson from the Kursk catastrophe: It is not just about getting the necessary technology for a rescue. It is just as important to create mutual trust and to agree on a common approach at an early stage. In order to have better chances of success in the future if such a disaster repeats itself.