SAN DIEGO (CBS 8) - Members of the U.S and Chilean navy are taking the plunge off the San Diego coast to practice a submarine rescue. The two-day exercise will test the two countries' ability to work together and prepare them for a tricky underwater operation.
The U.S. Navy has more than 80 submarines in use, and there are more than 400 subs worldwide, but when one sinks to the bottom of the ocean, due to weather, fire or other accident, the U.S. Navy's Deep Submergence Unit is equipped to rescue the trapped sailors -- a life-saving feat demonstrated though Thursday's rescue exercise with the Chilean Navy.
"We are the only U.S. Navy unit that does submarine rescue," Cdr. David Lemly said.
In Wednesday's sub rescue exercise ten miles west of Point Loma, the U.S. Navy teamed up with the Chilean Navy, whose sub the Carrera has been intentionally grounded.
"We want to do it, we want to do it. We are a little bit anxious, but we want to do it," Lt. Herman Espinoza said.
First, an atmospheric diving suit plunges to the hatch of the trapped sub to verify the occupants within are alive.
"He was able to go down and do tap codes, tap on the hatch and hear the people inside tap back," Lemly said.
After that, a pressurized rescue module, or PRM capable of holding up to 18 people, submerges to rescue the trapped sailors.
"If you're claustrophobic, you won't like it," Lemly said.
Once the PRM reaches the trapped sub, the tense rescue operation is executed.
"They'll establish a hard seal between them, then we'll be able to open the hatches and move personnel back and forth," Lemly said.
Ever since the Russian sub Kursk went down in 2000, eventually killing all 118 sailors on board, a special online alert system has been established to locate the closest rescue team to a grounded sub with the goal of executing a rescue operation within 72 hours.
The U.S. Navy's Deep Submergence Unit is capable of rescuing the occupants of a submarine trapped as far as 2,000 feet below sea level.