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CNN SATURDAY MORNING NEWS

Interview With Peter Huchthausen

Aired July 20, 2002 - 09:53   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Harrison Ford is plunging into a new role this weekend, commander of the ill-fated Soviet submarine K-19. It's based on a true story. He and the crew fight to prevent a nuclear meltdown when a leak occurs in a reactor.

Joining us now from Auburn, Maine, is retired U.S. Navy Captain Peter Huchthausen. He is the author of the book that is at the core of this very big Hollywood movie.

Captain, I assume you've seen the movie.

CAPT. PETER HUCHTHAUSEN (RET.), U.S. NAVY: Yes, I have.

O'BRIEN: Yes, how -- that's -- what's the truth meter on it? Is it fairly close to what happened?

HUCHTHAUSEN: It's very close. Matter of fact, we're very pleased the way it came out. This is a serious movie by serious actors about a very serious event.

O'BRIEN: Now, as I understand it, there was an early script that had some of the surviving crew members rather upset. Tell us about that, and whether that's been rectified.

HUCHTHAUSEN: Well, it has indeed been rectified. The Russians, survivors, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) movie folks actually researched and got some firsthand interviews, had seen an early script, and the Russians always like to see early scripts. But they were upset with it, and the director and the producers listened to it, and they fixed it.

And they haven't seen the final result, but I'm sure they're going to love it.

O'BRIEN: Tell us about the real story here, for those of us who don't know it, as we look at the picture of the real captain, and then Harrison Ford. This captain is a complicated character. You would paint him, I'm gathering, in relatively heroic terms, correct?

HUCHTHAUSEN: Yes, sir. I think he was definitely heroic. And the sad thing about this story is that that -- it was an indictment against the system that -- under which they operated.

And we are fortunate enough to have obtained the exclusive right to publish his memoir, Captain Zateyev's memoir, which we did in the tie-in book to the movie, in which he tells his story after the fact, exactly what happened on board during that accident, and what happened afterwards as they tried to rectify, as he tried to rectify the nuclear power situation in the Soviet Navy.

It's a very sad story.

O'BRIEN: And -- it is a very sad story. Many people with acute radiation sickness, very heroic efforts to stop this reactor from literally melting down. But what it really pointed out was how shoddy the Soviet Navy was, in fact. And it makes me wonder why were scared of them in the first place.

HUCHTHAUSEN: Well, we didn't know what was going on exactly. We in naval intelligence had a pretty good idea that they were having problems, and they were racing to catch up with us. We were far superior in all aspects of naval warfare, and especially submarine warfare.

And they were catching up, but they lost an awful lot of men in trying to catch up.

O'BRIEN: In -- really in very unseaworthy vessels, which ultimately were very dangerous.

As you read back and do your research, and you really have become engrossed in this, as a Navy man, are you able to sort of pull yourself out of those cold war days and see these as almost comrades?

HUCHTHAUSEN: Yes, sir. In doing the research for this book and for some other books I had written before, I've gotten quite close to some of these Soviet navy officers who were very much active the same years I was in the Navy. And they've become very close friends. And now we realize that these men were indeed not only normally brave and proud people, like most Russians are, but they were extremely brave to go to sea in those ships that were shoddy, they were way behind, and they were just good men under a terrible system.

O'BRIEN: And just briefly, do you find yourself wondering what you would do under the same circumstances?

HUCHTHAUSEN: Well, yes, I'm not a submariner, I'm an antisubmarine warfare person. And being as submariners are very special people, they're strange, but they have to be strange, and they were -- our submariners were working tooth by jowl -- cheek by jowl with the Soviet submariners, all throughout the cold war. And these commanders of our submarines and their submarines had an awful lot of autonomy, and they had to have -- be absolutely impeccable in their bravery and in their courage.

And I think they did a good job.

O'BRIEN: Captain Peter Huchthausen, who has been -- made it his calling to research the Soviet navy in the cold war days, and who has produced the grist for the movie "K-19: The Widowmaker," which has an accompanying book, which we invite you to check out, because it is a very fascinating, riveting tale, I might say., Thank you for -- very much for being with us here on CNN SATURDAY MORNING.

HUCHTHAUSEN: My pleasure, Miles.

O'BRIEN: All right.

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