ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — The family of the officer whose note remains the only chilling testimony of the dying hours of the Kursk submarine buried their son on Thursday, the first funeral by relatives of the 118 dead crew.
A large copy of the letter scrawled by Lt.-Capt. Dmitry Kolesnikov as he sat in darkness waiting for death or rescue was displayed behind glass in a hall in Russia's second city of St. Petersburg where the funeral was held.
Kolesnikov's body was buried in a special part of a local cemetery called Heroes' Way to a salute of rifle shots fired in the air and a small parade of navy officers.
As the funeral got under way, divers continued efforts to move into one of the forward sections of the wreck, lying 354 feet down on the bed of the Arctic Barents Sea. They have already recovered 12 bodies from a rear compartment.
The copy of the note, which had been titled "No need to despair" by one of the family, stood at the foot his coffin.
"It is dark to write but I will try by feel. It seems there is no chance, 10 to 20 percent. Let's hope someone will read this," it said.
"Here there are lists of the personnel of the sections who are in the ninth (section) and will try to get out. Hello to everyone, there is no need for despair," the note said.
The finding of the note last week revived the emotions that swept over Russia when the disaster struck and disproved official statements that all the crew had died in the first moments.
The navy held a memorial service at the weekend for Kolesnikov and three other crew members at Severomorsk, home of Russia's Northern Fleet, to which the Kursk belonged.
Some 1,000 people filed in front of Kolesnikov's coffin before the burial, laying flowers as his relatives sat nearby. His mother sobbed as a military band played somber music.
Two explosions, as yet unexplained, sank the Kursk on Aug. 12. The navy first announced an accident on Aug. 14 but played down its seriousness.
Northern Fleet commander Vyacheslav Popov, who has apologized personally to the families of the crew for the disaster, praised Kolesnikov's heroism at the burial ceremony.
"His fate will become an example of serving the fatherland for everyone. I will teach the officers, sailors, midshipmen of the Northern Fleet according to his example," Popov said.
Kolesnikov was commander of the turbine room on the Kursk. His note showed that around 23 of the crew managed to make their way to the rearmost ninth section. Its discovery brought a new outpouring of grief and revived anger that Russia had waited several days before seeking international help to save the crew.
Divers first opened a hole near the eighth section of the submarine. They then entered the ninth compartment, but earlier this week switched their efforts to the third.
The head of the Northern Fleet's press service, Vladimir Navrotsky, told Russian television that divers had already finished cutting a hole in the side of the vessel near the third section and video cameras had been sent inside.
The third section is near the front of the submarine and sustained most damage from the two blasts.
"Specialists will soon decide whether to allow the divers to go into the third section or to begin to make a hole in the fourth compartment of the submarine," Navrotsky said.
He also said three more bodies had been identified.
The divers are working from a platform on the surface, owned by the Norwegian arm of U.S. oil services firm Halliburton.