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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Father Couldn't Rescue Son on Kursk

MURMANSK, Far North — Captain Vladimir Geletin had the worst job in the world last week — he helped coordinate the navy’s vain efforts to save its sunken submarine, the Kursk, while his son was dead or dying on board.

His lower jaw set and his hands clasped together, Geletin spoke of how his son Boris, 25, perished on the Kursk along with the rest of its 118 crew, and pinned the blame for the calamity on the state of the crumbling military.

"This is hard for me to talk about, but I wanted to," he said at a news conference Wednesday in Murmansk.

"Why? Because my honor as an officer and my memory of my son compel me to tell the truth," said Geletin, his voice trembling.

Click here to read our Special Report on the Kursk Tragedy.

He had spent the last 10 days on board one of the navy’s rescue vessels in the Barents Sea, coordinating the work to try to save his son, a lieutenant, and his comrades trapped on the sea bed, 108 meters below the surface.

"We did everything we could, everything we could. Yes, the fleet does need good emergency rescue units and we didn’t have them," he said.

He lashed out at critical media coverage of the navy’s rescue effort. The navy has come under fire for making contradictory and unreliable statements about the crisis.

"The fleet command always told the truth. … [At the beginning] nobody could say exactly what had happened to the vessel," he said, explaining why initial navy reports played down the seriousness of the Kursk’s situation.

"Nobody could have said — right, the vessel is on the sea bed, that means everybody is dead," he said.

Geletin said that from the very moment the Kursk went out of radio contact during exercises, he knew it was his son’s crew on board submarine K-141, rather than the second crew that all Russian subs have.

He said he never gave up hope for Boris, even though he served at the front of the vessel, which was probably flooded almost instantly.

"Only after the official announcement did I say: My son has perished, along with his friends and comrades. I don’t know if you could find a man who could have said so earlier," he said, drawing deeply on a cigarette and looking at the floor.

Officials say they now think most or all of the crew died almost instantly when an explosion ripped through the submarine and sent it crashing to the sea floor Aug. 12. It remains unclear whether anyone survived more than a few hours.

Early last week, navy officers said they had heard tapping on the hull, indicating that crew members were still alive.

"You can be mistaken about these sounds, about what caused them. Whether they were human or mechanical noises. We really wanted it to be so — that they were still alive," Giletin said.

The death of Giletin’s son Boris was the second blow the family suffered in recent weeks. Giletin’s 2-year-old grandson, Boris’ son, died just a month ago, said Northern Fleet spokesman Vladimir Navrotsky, without giving details.

Giletin said it was obvious that the blame for the accident lay in Russia’s attempt to maintain a super power-sized military on a Third World-sized budget.

The nation held its breath last week during the frantic efforts to attach a rescue capsule to the Kursk. The failure to do this, and the rapid success of Norwegian deep-sea divers who opened a hatch Monday, have highlighted the poor state of the impoverished military.

"You all know the reason very well: The fleet has many problems, like the whole military, like the whole country," he said.

President Vladimir Putin briefly visited this part of Russia’s Arctic north to talk to several hundred shocked and grieving relatives Tuesday. Geletin said he would have put one simple question to Putin.

"I would have asked one question — one. Are we waiting in vain for funding for the armed services?

(Reuters, AP)