Kiev, Ukraine (CNSNews.com) - Russia's contention that 118 crewmembers died within minutes of a blast onboard the stricken nuclear submarine Kursk apparently is not true.
A letter found on the body of one of the crewmen reportedly reads, "It's 13:15. All personnel from sections six, seven and eight have moved to section nine. There are 23 people here. We have made the decision because none of us can escape."
Russia's Itar-Tass news agency quoted from the letter on Thursday.
Lieutenant-Captain Kolesnikov apparently wrote the letter on August 12, the day an explosion sent the submarine to the bottom of the Barents Sea. Some reports suggest the explosion happened around 11:30 on that Saturday.
When rescuers finally reached the submarine on Monday, August 21, they found compartment nine completely flooded.
The ninth space is toward the rear of the submarine. There had been hopes that as the vessel flooded from the damaged front, some among the crew might have survived by seeking shelter behind watertight doors in the compartments further aft.
A Russian special commission report concluded that "all the crew members died immediately after the accident," but the sailor's letter indicates that the ninth space had indeed become a temporary haven for the survivors.
News of the letter comes as the operation to salvage the sailors' bodies was temporarily suspended because of a storm in the Barents Sea, the Moscow Echo reported Thursday, quoting Russian fleet's spokesman Igor Dygalo.
Russian and Norwegian deep-sea divers have retrieved the bodies of four crewmen, which are now being inspected by medical experts to determine the cause of death, NTV television reported from Murmansk, the home port of Northern Fleet.
Navy officials have not yet released the crewmen's names.
On Wednesday afternoon, a Russian diver entered the eighth and ninth compartments
Meanwhile Defense Minister Igor Sergeev denied any knowledge of an alleged "multi-million" dollar agreement between Moscow and Washington to keep the details of the tragedy top secret, amid rumors of the involvement of an American submarine.
Investigators have still not ruled out the possibility that the Kursk collided with another vessel.
Sergeev told Novosti that it was obvious now that another theory -- that the submarine had been testing new weapons -- was false.
"I am 80 percent convinced there was a collision," Chief Admiral Vladimir Kuroyedov was quoted as having told the families. In two months' time, he said, "I will say who."
After testing missiles and torpedoes like those on the Kursk, military experts have concluded that the weapons could not have been detonated by an impact - with another vessel or rocks, for example - Novosti said Wednesday. Neither could one exploding have set off others.
The experts will now also explore the influence of high temperatures on torpedoes, because of another theory, of a fire onboard.
(CNSNews.com London Bureau Chief Patrick Goodenough contributed to this report.)