A note that was found on one of four bodies raised from the sunken Russian nuclear submarine Kursk, revealed today that at least 23 people remained alive after powerful explosions killed most of the crew.
The report, from the ITAR-Tass new agency, was the first sign that anyone had survived the initial blasts that tore apart the submarine and sunk it in the Barents Sea on 12 August.
The note did not indicate any cause of the catastrophe.
Russian navy chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov quoted from the note, which was found in the pocket of a seaman who was identified only as Lieutenant DR Kolesnikov.
"All the crew from the sixth, seventh and eighth compartments went over to the ninth. There are 23 people here. We made this decision as a result of the accident. None of us can get to the surface," Admiral Kuroyedov read.
"The note went on to mention the figures 13 and five and then added 'I am writing blindly'," the admiral told families of the crew, who were gathered in the northern Russian port of Murmansk.
Many Russian officials had suggested that some crew members could have remained alive after the disaster, as indicated by reports of tapping sounds which were detected from the submarine in the first days.
But others discounted the reports as unsubstantiated and said that the sounds could have been caused by collapsing equipment or the submarine settling into the seabed.
The note may indicate that the survivors of the initial explosions died of drowning, hypothermia or high pressure.
Russian and Norwegian divers have recovered four bodies after five days of painstaking work to cut holes in the top of the submarine.
The complex underwater operation is being performed with leading-edge diving equipment, including robots and mechanical arms. Divers used an instrument that sprays pressurised water mixed with diamond dust to cut the Kursk's two-inch thick inner steel hull.
Officials say that up to two-thirds of the crew were probably blown to dust by powerful explosions in the weapons room in the submarine's bow.
Admiral Kuroyedov had warned that he might cancel the recovery effort if experts said that divers' life was in danger.
Two widows of the Kursk crew members visited the Regalia yesterday and, on behalf of all the families, pleaded with the divers not to take excessive risks.
But Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, had promised to recover the bodies at an emotional meeting with the crew's relatives shortly after the disaster, and the government seems determined to conduct the costly effort despite the shortage of funds for the military.
Some Russian media have pointed out that, by stubbornly continuing this risky policy, the government wants to vindicate its confused response to the sinking of the Kursk, when it resisted foreign help for days while botching its own rescue efforts.
The cause of the disaster remains unknown, with authorities pointing at a collision with a Western submarine, second world war mine or an internal malfunction as possible reasons.