Navy Rescues Chilean Submarine in International Exercise

Pressurized rescue vessels dive over 400 feet to extract submariners

By Chris Chan
|  Saturday, Nov 5, 2011  |  Updated 6:35 PM PDT
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Rescue exercise prepares for some of the worst scenarios possible.

Rescue exercise prepares for some of the worst scenarios possible.

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The American and Chilean navies joined in a submarine rescue exercise in waters off Point Loma Thursday.

The Chilean submarine Carrera intentionally ran aground in over 400 feet of water. It was an opportunity to use the U.S. Navy's Submarine Rescue System, designed to operate in extremely difficult conditions. 

"[This is] a capability that the navy has, to help extract distressed submariners that may be trapped on board a submarine at depth," said Rear Admiral Bob Kemensky of the U.S. Navy.

Kemensky said the exercise sought to train members of the U.S. Navy to operate the specialized equipment as well as train foreign submariners in ways to aid rescuers in their operation.

The first operation after all the equipment was put into place was to launch a diver in an Atmospheric Diving Suit, or ADS, which drops to the submarine and assesses the damage.

After the submarine's surface was deemed fit to board, the Pressurized Rescue Module was sent, able to rescue 16 submariners from the vessel on the ocean floor.  The pressurized feature is extremely important in submarine rescue as sailors' bodies could be in a highly pressurized environment. 

"If you're pressurized to much more than 30 feet, virtually everyone would have some sort of decompression sickness. You get up to 40 feet and deeper, people would be dying on deck," said William Orr, director of the International Submarine Escape and Liaison Office, or ISMERLO.

The international collaboration spawned from the catastrophe of the Russian submarine Kursk in 2000, in which 118 sailors died.

While there was little the international community could do to help, world leaders decided more cooperation was necessary to avert future disasters. 

"In the event of an actual rescue, we can now coordinate globally with all the submarine-operating nations and all the nations that operate rescue equipment," Orr said.

The exercises are becoming increasingly more important as 43 nations currently operate submarines. Globally, 440 submarines are active.
 
While the ADS and PRM are capable of operating in depths of 2,000 feet, most of the world's sea floor is much deeper.

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