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PLA submariners defy death in the depths

2014-12-18 08:48 China Daily Web Editor: Si Huan
Crew members of Submarine 372, of the PLA navy's South Sea Fleet, salute in an undated photo. GAO YI/CHINA DAILY

Crew members of Submarine 372, of the PLA navy's South Sea Fleet, salute in an undated photo. GAO YI/CHINA DAILY

Crew members' well-honed skills and exceptional courage cited for averting disaster

For Senior Captain Wang Hongli and his crew, reacting fast enough in their submarine in the abyss of the ocean is a matter of life and death.

In a recent People's Liberation Army navy patrol mission, his team had just three minutes to save their Submarine 372 from plunging into an underwater trench thousands of meters deep.

The vessel had encountered a sudden change in water conditions, leading it to sink uncontrollably fast.

"We couldn't control the boat's depth despite my order to fill the ballast tanks. It fell tens of meters in less than three minutes," Wang said.

His crew quickly seized the little time they had, opening all the emergency air flasks within 10 seconds to fill the tanks. They managed to close more than 100 valves and related equipment in less than a minute. In two minutes, all the cabins were sealed.

The team's swift, coordinated reaction saved everyone.

"It is not uncommon for a submarine to temporarily lose control of its depth due to the change in seawater density and under-surface current, but most of the time we can fix that by rebalancing or speeding up," Wang, commander of an elite submarine flotilla under the PLA navy's South Sea Fleet, recently told a news conference in a rare open house.

"But this time, the submarine was sailing in deep waters and it was sinking very fast, so if we didn't move fast, the boat and its whole crew would have been pulled into the abyss in a very short time."

One of the vessel's pipes in the main engine cabin was also damaged by the increased water pressure, resulting in an influx of seawater and the main engine losing its power.

Ma Ze, a staff officer from the PLA navy headquarters in Beijing who took part in the mission, explained how serious the situation was.

"Everyone who has served on a submarine knows that three situations pose the most dangerous threats to a boat-uncontrollable sinking caused by loss of buoyancy, influx of seawater and equipment catching fire. Submarine 372 suffered from two of them at one time, which truly presented a life-and-death situation for its crew."

Professor Liu Guijie from the Ocean University of China told the South China Morning Post: "It's really dangerous. In this case, the water density suddenly falls and as a consequence the buoyant force would also decrease, which would make the watercraft plummet."

Many later agreed that the crew's escape from death was a miracle in the navy's history.

The tough training, spirit of sacrifice and unwavering faith in teamwork were the weapons that Wang's crew used to save themselves, he said.

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