U.S. officers honored for role in Russian sub rescue
WASHINGTON — The Russian ambassador to the United States presented two U.S. officers with the Order of Friendship on Tuesday for their parts in rescuing submariners trapped underwater off the Kamchatka peninsula in August, the DOD reported.
Ambassador Yuri Ushakov presented the awards, the highest honor to non-Russian citizens, to Air Force Maj. Patrick Poon and Navy Lt. Cmdr. Steve Smith at the Russian Embassy in Washington.
“I got the call at 8 a.m., and by 1 p.m. I was on a plane heading toward Kamchatka,” said Poon, commander of Detachment 1, 36th Contingency Response Group, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
On Aug. 5, the 45-foot Priz AS-28 mini-sub became entangled in discarded fishing nets in Russian Far East waters. The submarine was stuck at about 620 feet, and time was a crucial factor in rescuing the crew, who were exposed to temperatures as low as 43 degrees.
When Smith was alerted to go to the site from his naval base at North Island, Calif., there was talk that the Russian crew only had 12 to 14 hours of oxygen, the DOD reported. “That was revised up as we went to the area, but you never know for sure,” he said.
Both men and their units joined Russian, British and Japanese Navy personnel in the rescue effort. A British Navy remotely operated vehicle — the Scorpio — cut the Russian sub free. The craft rose to the surface with just six hours of oxygen left, according to published accounts.
Smith said the experience in Kamchatka was unforgettable. When the submarine popped to the surface and the Russian crew came out, there was a lot of “relief and back-slapping,” Smith was quoted as saying.
Poon told those in attendance that there was “fantastic cooperation” from the Russian servicemembers on the ground and among the international crews.
Ushakov said that even the Cold War never interrupted the tradition of mutual assistance at sea.
“Even while Russian and American submarines and battleships were playing their cat-and-mouse game,” Ushakov was reported as saying, “naval officers were always ready to extend a helping hand to each other.”