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TV footage captures the moment crew onboard HMS Northumberland sound the alarm, shouting “what the hell was that”, “s***”, “what the f*** have I just hit” as the boat crashes into its towed array sonar.
It is believed to be the first time such an incident has been documented and made public.
Towed array sonar uses hundreds of microphones on a cable, which was trailing behind the Type-23 frigate. The tech is designed to detect and track quiet submarines and is positioned hundreds of metres away from the ship.
HMS Northumberland was on a 48-hour hunt to find the Russian sub in late 2020 after concerns it could try to tap into undersea cables essential for communication and the internet.
Channel 5 documented the mission for its series Warship: Life At Sea, during which the crew launched a Merlin helicopter to try to find the vessel.
The footage shows the moment they spot what is believed to be a Russian submarine appearing above the surface of the water.
At one point during Commander Thom Hobbs, the warship’s captain, says: “We are very close to the submarine – we are probably parallel. If they were on the surface we would definitely see faces.”
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Shortly afterwards the Russian submarine appears to turn sharply in what is described by those onboard as an “aggressive move” and collides with the towed array sonar, which is the diameter of a fist.
The sonar, which was recovered in its entirety, was damaged to such an extent that the ship had to return to port and the sonar had to be replaced.
The equipment is believed to cost about £20million.
The Ministry of Defence confirmed the incident, saying: “In late 2020 a Russian submarine being tracked by HMS Northumberland came into contact with her towed array sonar.”
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