What would happen if a submarine sank? This is not a question most of us often ask, but we should be aware of it. With the recent sinking of Indonesia, KRI Nanggala-402, this topic has been thrust into the spotlight.
Submarine disasters are rare, but they always make headline news. We will look at some of the terrifying submarine accidents in history, including the Kursk and USS Scorpion disasters.
We’ll also discuss what happens to a submarine when it sinks and what the crew can do in such a situation.
What Happens When A Submarine Sinks?
The reality is that when a submarine sinks, life becomes incredibly difficult for those on board. The pressure at depth can cause water to flood the submarine so quickly. The crew members may not have time to put on their scuba gear.
The lack of air and the intense cold can kill them. Even if they escape the submarine, they may not survive long in the open ocean.
What Is A Submarine?
Submarines are a type of watercraft that can operate both on the water’s surface and below the surface. They use electric motors to create a force that propels the submarine in one of two directions. They also use ballast tanks to control their depth.
In the early 1800s, the first submarines came into existence, and they have come a long way since then. Today, submarines are an essential part of many militaries and valuable for research and exploration.
Submarines fall into three categories:
- attack missile submarines
- ballistic missile submarines
- cruise missile submarines
Attack submarines help combat other vessels and gather intelligence. On the other hand, ballistic missile submarines help in launching nuclear missiles.
How Long Do Submarines Crews Stay Submerged?
Submarines crews can stay submerged for weeks, but the limit is typically around 90 days. The air inside the submarine becomes stale after a certain amount of time. The submarine crew often needs to come up to the surface for fresh air to avoid carbon dioxide poisoning.
What Are The Dangers Of A Submarine Sinking?
A submarine sinking is a catastrophic event that could potentially cause the loss of many lives. The dangers of a submarine sinking are vast:
- The first danger is the loss of air. A submarine can sink quickly, and the crew may not have time to put on escape scuba gear. If the submarine sinks into deep water, the crew will likely drown. The passengers on board could also freeze or suffocate.
- Another danger is the loss of communication. If the submarine sinks, the crew will be unable to contact headquarters or other submarines. It could lead to confusion and disorganization, further injuring the crew.
- The submarine could also sink to the bottom of the ocean and crush.
How Do You Survive When A Submarine Sinks?
The submarine is the most advanced and complex naval vessel. It can operate in all kinds of water conditions and stay submerged for long periods. However, submarines are not invincible, and they can sink.
If a submarine sinks within 600m depth, the first thing the crew should do is abandon the ship. You should evacuate the submarine as quickly as possible and head to the surface using escape gear. Upon reaching the surface, you should inflate your life vests and wait for rescue.
If it sinks below 1000m deep, there’s no time to abandon the ship. Death will be instantaneous, and the crew won’t even realize that they are in pain.
The Terrifying Submarine Accidents In History
Submarines are a vital part of naval warfare, and we often see them as one the most terrifying weapons at sea. While they are generally safe, submarines are not immune to accidents. We will look at some of the worst submarine accidents in history.
1. Indonesia, KRI Nanggala-402
On April 21, 2021, the Indonesian submarine KRI Nanggala-402 sank during a training exercise. The accident killed all 53 crew members on board. It sank in the Bali Sea about 60 miles off the coast. There’s speculation that problems arose due to a power outage.
The tragedy has led to several changes in Indonesian submarine safety procedures. We can only hope that such a disaster won’t occur again.
2. Argentina, ARA San Juan (S-42)
The Argentine submarine ARA San Juan (S-42) lost all communication with the outside world in November 2017. The disappearance of the San Juan and her 44-member crew provoked a massive multinational search effort that ultimately proved fruitless.
What followed was a long and harrowing ordeal for the submariners’ families. Since there wasn’t concrete information about the submarine’s fate, the families endured a seemingly endless stream of false leads.
The search for the submarine continued for over two months, but they ultimately called it off in early 2018. The discovery of the wreckage eventually happened in November 2018, a full year after the disappearance.
3. Russia, Nerpa (K-152)
In 2008, the Russian Nerpa (K-152) submarine was undergoing trials in the Sea of Japan when a sudden fire occurred. The accident killed 20 sailors, while 41 people survived the accident. Surprisingly, the submarine somehow survived too.
The tragedy was worse because the sub was full of weapons. These weapons exploded after the fire broke out.
4. China, Changcheng 361
In 2003, the Chinese Navy’s submarine, Changcheng 361, experienced an accident that killed all 70 sailors on board. Sailors found the submarine floating aimlessly in the ocean near North Korea.
An inquiry revealed that the submarine submerged and exhausted all of the oxygen. Thus the engine failed to shut down.
5. Russia, Kursk (K-141) 2000
Another tragic submarine accident occurred on August 12, 2000. The Russian submarine Kursk (K-141) suffered a catastrophic explosion and sank in the Barents Sea.
The disaster killed all 118 sailors on board, making it one of the deadliest submarine accidents. Ninety-five died instantly, while 23 survived only to die days later due to oxygen deprivation.
Two explosions caused the torpedo room disaster, most likely caused by a faulty torpedo. The submarine could only send one distress signal before it went down.
The Russian Navy initially tried to keep the accident a secret, but the news eventually leaked. Many criticized the Russian government for not doing enough to save the sailors. The Putin administration eventually agreed to have an international commission investigate the disaster.
6. K-8, 1970
On April 12, 1970, the Soviet submarine K-8 sank at 15,350 ft in the Bay of Biscay. The submarine carried three nuclear torpedoes. Fifty-two crewmen perished in the accident.
7. USS Scorpion (SSN-589)
On May 22, 1968, the USS Scorpion (SSN-589) nuclear submarine disappeared without a trace. The boat and her crew of 99 had been on a routine patrol in the North Atlantic.
The sub was last heard from when she sent a routine radio communication to her headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia. There hasn’t been a full explanation of the disappearance of the Scorpion. There are several possible explanations for the disaster, including;
- a collision with a foreign submarine
- sabotage by one of the crew members, or
- an explosion of the nuclear reactor.
To this day, the actual cause of the accident remains a mystery.
What Can We Learn From Submarine Disasters?
Both small and large disasters offer a variety of lessons that we learn from to prevent future accidents. It is undoubtedly true for submarine disasters, which have caused the loss of many lives over the years.
Here are a few of the most important lessons we can learn from submarine disasters are:
- Pay attention to safety procedures
What comes to mind first is that safety must be the number one priority when designing and operating submarines. It takes only a small error to cause disaster, as we have seen.
Following safety procedures is essential for avoiding accidents. It means that everyone must be adequately trained and familiar with the procedures.
- Crew communication is vital.
For a submarine to operate safely, crew communication is essential. It was made clear in the USS Scorpion disaster that poor communication led to the submarine’s sinking.
- Finally, we can learn from submarine disasters about the importance of teamwork. When things go wrong, everyone must work together to survive.
When a submarine sinks, the pressure of the water can crush it like a soda can. By understanding how submarines work and what happens when they sink, we can better prepare for accidents. In addition, it’ll ensure our sailors have the best chance of survival.
The tragedy of a submarine sinking is a rare event. However, it’s essential to be aware of submarines’ dangers to civilians and military personnel. Emergency responders must be able to reach the scene as quickly as possible and begin rescuing survivors.
In this article, we’ve looked at tragic submarine disasters and the tragic aftermath that followed. While these accidents are thankfully rare, they provide a chilling reminder of the dangers beneath the sea’s surface.