No word on 18 crew members; 3 sailors on top of submarine jump into sea

Rocked by a series of deafening explosions, the Navy’s kilo-class submarine INS Sindhurakshak sank in the small hours of Wednesday at the naval dockyard here. Operations are on to rescue the eighteen crew members — three officers and 15 sailors — who went down with the vessel after it flooded.

Eyewitnesses, who claimed to have heard the explosions from the dockyard, said the sky lit up late Tuesday night with a burst of orange flames followed by white light. The explosions led to a fire that quickly spread through the vessel.

Of the 18 crew members inside at the time of explosion, three were officers and 15 sailors. At the time of going to press, there had been no communication with any of the crew members since the incident. “While we can hope for the best, we have to be prepared for the worst,” said Admiral D.K. Joshi, chief of naval staff, at a press conference in the dockyard.

Three sailors, who had been standing on top of the submarine when the explosions occurred managed to jump into the sea immediately after the explosion. They sustained minor injuries and were later taken to the INHS Ashwini Hospital.

Divers have been able to prise open the conning tower — which was fused shut due to the heat of the blast — of the vessel to enable rescuers to enter. “There have been instances where people have survived in the worst of conditions. We have not lost hope,” Admiral Joshi said.

However, as the submarine sank very close to the dock, the rescue efforts are being impeded by muddy, murky water. “Once all sides of the submarine are studied and checked for openings, we will start pumping out the water. It will lessen the weight of the submerged ship, so it can surface,” he said.

While Admiral Joshi said ordnance at the forward end of the submarine appeared to have exploded, he did not offer any reasons for the blasts. While pointing out that the battery charging had been finished a few days earlier and chances of hydrogen leak were slim, Admiral Joshi said the inquiry that has been ordered will go into all the aspects of the accident. The vessel had flooded after the torpedo compartment at the forward end suffered damage. Water used to douse the fire also flooded the compartments leading to its sinking. INS Sindhurakshak was recently refurbished and modernised in Russia.

Another submarine, which was docked next to INS Sindhurakshak, too, caught fire from the radiation of the explosion. A fire official said that the flames were doused immediately and the by-standing vessel was towed away.

“Our first job was to contain the fire and ensure it didn’t engulf the second submarine too,” said deputy fire officer Prabhat Rahangdale. Even during the operations, there were a series of minor explosions.

Eyewitnesses, who claimed to have heard the explosions from the dockyard, said the sky lit up with a burst of orange flames followed by white light.

Nearly 180 fire-fighting personnel of 16 fire tenders of the Mumbai Fire Brigade and Mumbai Port Trust fought to douse the fire for three-and-a-half hours, after which the divers and naval teams took over, said Mr. Rahangdale.

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