On 27 July 2006, the Navy’s Deep Submergence Unit (DSU) at Naval Base Coronado in California was awarded a Meritorious Unit Commendation in part because of a rescue mission they undertook in the opening days of August 2005.
On August 4, a Russian mini sub called AS-28, normally used for rescue operations, was launched from its mother ship as part of a training exercise. Built in 1989, AS-28 was 44 feet long and 19 feet in diameter; it was capable of diving to depths of 1,600 feet. But that day, in 625 feet of water in the Pacific Ocean off the eastern coast of Russia, things went terribly wrong. AS-28 became entangled in fishing nets and was rendered unable to move or come to the surface. The water was too deep to allow her crew of seven to escape or permit divers to effect a rescue. The Russian navy dispatched two surface ships to drag the bottom with anchors in the hope of either pulling the sub into shallower water or severing the nets that held it down, but to no avail. Fortunately for the trapped crewmembers, within 24 hours the Russians had requested help from the international community; by the time other countries—including the United States, Great Britain, and Japan—began to mobilize their resources, the crew of AS-28 had just 18 hours of air left.
The DSU at Coronado sprang into action shortly after receiving the message, loading an Air Force C-5 Galaxy transport airplane with a thirty-member rescue team and two Super Scorpios, unmanned vehicles capable of slicing through inch-thick steel cables and lifting 250 pounds with each of their two robotic arms. When the aircraft touched down on the Kamchatka Peninsula, the first American plane to be allowed to land there since World War II, the crew and the Super Scorpios were rushed to a waiting truck, which in turn brought them to the ship that would convey them to the site of the accident.
The DSU team did not ultimately get to use its equipment since—luckily for the trapped submariners—the British and their Super Scorpios arrived first. Despite oxygen conservation measures—the crew had spent the harrowing hours of their ordeal lying on the deck, breathing slowly—AS-28 had less than six hours’ worth of air left aboard when the British Super Scorpio cut the last cable and the little sub floated to the surface.
Although all they did was stand by in case their assistance was needed, the members of the DSU team were more than happy to have made the long trip. As Commander Kent Van Horn, the head of the unit, said, “Most of [our] personnel are submariners themselves. [Those were] fellow submariners on the bottom.”