On August 12, 2000, the Russian submarine K-141 Kursk sank in the Barents Sea. Investigators later concluded that a quantity of hydrogen peroxide propellant leaked and caught fire in the torpedo room. The fire then detonated all of the ammunition on board. Although 23 of the 118 men on the sub survived both blasts, none lived to be rescued.
It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly ten years. I remember those tense days, dancing with frustration that the Russian government didn’t ask for help with the rescue sooner, hoping that the rumors of tapping sounds from inside the sub were true, feeling crushed when that hope proved false.
We focus so much on these disasters and the people caught up in them: the woman who ran back toward a tsunami to reach her children, the last survivors pulled from the rubble after earthquakes, missing miners and office workers. Safety experts call it rubbernecking and tell us not to do it where we might become casualties ourselves (and they’re right). But there’s more to this pull than just the hunger for the dramatic.
Our capacity to care about these stories, these people, is part of what it is to be human. It’s what makes us love and makes us lovable. And though of course I would rather that the Kursk had not sunk or its crew died, I would not trade my ability to grieve for them for any treasure you could name.