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94 Bodies Recovered in Kursk Submarine - 2002-02-07

Russian officials say they have now recovered all the bodies that they can from the wreck of the nuclear-powered submarine Kursk, which was raised from the sea bottom in a extraordinary salvage operation late last year. One hundred and eighteen men were on board the Kursk when it sank almost two years ago and 94 bodies have recovered.

A senior official from Russia's Northern Fleet says 90 of the bodies have been identified and returned to their families. According to a report by the Itar-Tass news agency, Colonel Vladimir Mulov says the effort to find more bodies has run its course with little hope that the rest will ever be found.

The Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta reported in its Thursday edition that military investigators believe some of the crew lived up to eight hours following the explosion that sent the Kursk to the bottom of the Barents Sea. Previously, officials had said no one lived more than a few hours after the explosion.

The ship sank in August of 2000, killing all 118 men on board. The bodies of 12 of them were recovered in November of that year.

Most of the crew died instantly, but at least 23 were able to move to a rear compartment where, according to letters found on some of the bodies, they survived for several hours.

Some newspaper accounts said the builders of the Kursk blamed the disaster on the misfiring of a practice torpedo. According to those accounts, the initial explosion was followed a little over two minutes later by the nearly simultaneous detonation of four high-explosive torpedoes.

The Russian Navy has said it has not been able to determine the exact cause of the initial blast. Speculation in Russia has ranged from a flaw in a torpedo to a collision with another vessel, possibly a Western submarine.

Russian naval authorities, as well as President Vladimir Putin, have been severely criticized for their handling of the disaster.

The navy did not announce the sinking of the ship until two days after it happened and initially refused all international offers of help in trying to rescue the crew. More than a week after the sinking, foreign divers were allowed to go down to the Kursk, but by then everyone was dead.

At the time of the disaster Mr. Putin struck many of his countrymen as indifferent to the catastrophe because he did not cut short his vacation.