Amundsen Gulf, Beaufort Sea, on board the Russian Nuclear Submarine K-9, November-Class SSBN, 80m below the surface, May 1969
Captain Pietrovich had just entered the control room to relieve his First Officer Aleksey Tatamovich. Although all lights were on, it was never particularly bright inside the submarine. The prevailing drone of the huge generators was the only noise as all eyes rested on Captain Pietrovich.
“What is our depth?”
“Eighty metres, Comrade Captain”, the diving officer replied stiffly.
Pietrovich nodded briefly.
“Course and speed?”
“Course is one-six-five at eight knots, Comrade Captain.”
“How thick is the ice?”
“Our last measurements showed a thickness of approximately three metres, Comrade Captain.”
Reaching for a cup of tea, Captain Pietrovich nodded again. He stirred the tea with a little spoon, watching the lemon slice swirl around. He placed the lemon on the saucer and sipped the refreshing tea.
“The reactor is operating at seventy percent. All systems are working without a problem, Comrade Captain.”
The Captain took a few steps towards the table with the navigational charts and studied them.
“Where exactly are we?”
A young officer came to his site and placed a ruler on the chart.
“Here, Comrade Captain, approximately twenty-five sea miles northwest of Cape Parry.”
“Depth under keel?”
“Our sonar is showing us a depth of two hundred and forty two metres, Comrade Captain.”
“According to the chart it should be slightly deeper than three hundred metres. You are positive about our exact position?” the Captain asked cautiously.
“Yes, Comrade Captain. Please remember that our command has not confirmed the accuracy of these charts.”
Captain Pietrovich nodded in agreement, his eyes still on the chart.
“How was the depth contour of the sea floor in the last twelve hours?”
“The seafloor rose constantly from one thousand eight hundred and forty five metres to now two hundred and twenty metres, Comrade Captain.”
“Inform me immediately once the depth rises to one hundred and fifty metres. Keep course at one-six-five and maintain speed at eight knots. Bring the boat up to seventy metres.”
“Yes, Comrade Captain. Course at one-six-five, speed eight knots, making new depth of seventy metres”, repeated Aleksey Tatamovich.
While the crew got to work, Captain Pietrovich walked over to the sonar station.
“Any sonar contacts?”
“Negative, Comrade Captain. Last contact minus four hours. Most likely a small fishing vessel. Distance was twenty-three sea miles west-south-west, at the edge of the ice.”
“Comrade Captain! Sea floor rising quickly. Depth is one hundred forty metres!”
The Captain dropped his tea to the floor and ran to his command station.
“Up twenty, blow all ballast tanks, make her depth forty metres, course one-five-zero, new speed fifteen knots”, yelled Captain Pietrovich, while his First Officer repeated his orders.
Damn underwater mountains! He thought. The problem with navigating unmapped territories is that you do not have accurate charts!
“Depth?” He demanded from his crew.
“Our depth is seventy metres, Comrade Captain. Sea floor eighty-five metres, still rising, mountain straight ahead!”
“Full…”started Captain Pietrovich, but before he could finish his order, the deafening sound of steel smashing into solid rock drowned out any other noise in the submarine. Although K-9 was on the new course, the massive plateau was already too close. The submarine collided amidships with the edge of the mountain and skidded over it on its complete length. Larger stones immediately penetrated the outer pressure hull, destroying all the ballast cells on the starboard side at once. Skidding over the edge, the submarine also lost its starboard propeller with its shaft. K-9 straightened itself up again, still skidding over the now muddy ground of the plateau before it stopped more than 300 metres from the edge. The crippled submarine slowly listed to its starboard side as it came to a final rest.
Inside, K-9 was in chaos. Within the first seconds of the collision the complete bow of the submarine was flooded. The watertight compartments failed to close as water burst through the penetrated submarine. It was too late.
Captain Pietrovich groaned as he wiped his hand across his face. He got to his knees before looking at his blood soaked hands in the dim glow of the emergency lights. Suddenly, he felt the rapidly increasing pressure on his ears, and the last thing Captain Pietrovich saw was a black wall of freezing water rushing towards him. The lights went out the same moment he took his last breath.
Within seconds, K-9 was completely flooded. One final scream escaped the broken submarine as the last of the bubbles drifted upward. The sea fell silent.
Just off the coast of Kristiansand, Southern Norway Saturday, May 14th
The last thing the woman saw while she was falling backwards from the boat into the cold waters of the Norwegian coast was the smile on the man’s face. The four degree Celsius cold water closed over Natascha Kleinfeld’s head and bit her skin with a thousand teeth. She could hardly believe she was only one metre below the surface. Still sinking in the cold water, the man standing on the boat was now nothing more but a silhouette. Her body started to scream for oxygen as she continued to sink into the dark green abyss below her.