Canadian dies of injuries from submarine fire

One of the Canadian sailors injured in the fire on-board HMCS Chicoutimi has died.

A Canadian officer injured in Tuesday's fire aboard HMCS Chicoutimi has died while being transferred to hospital in Ireland.

Prime Minister Paul Martin made the announcement to a hushed House of Commons late Wednesday afternoon.

Martin said Lieut. Chris Saunders, a 32-year-old combat systems engineer from Saint John, N.B., died after being injured in the fire. "He gave his life serving his country and we owe his family our deepest condolences," Martin said.

Saunders was one of nine submariners who suffered smoke inhalation while putting out a fire aboard Chicoutimi on Tuesday. The sub was on its maiden voyage from Faslane, Scotland, to Halifax. It was the last of four subs purchased by the Canadian navy from Britain.

Chicoutimi was left dead in the water, without its normal communications systems. An initial news release from the Department of National Defence in Ottawa said, "The crew is safe. Several sailors experienced smoke inhalation but do not require evacuation from the submarine."

But after a physician from the Royal Navy arrived aboard on Wednesday, Saunders and two others were transferred by helicopter to hospital in Ireland. At first they were to be airlifted to Londonderry, Northern Ireland, but that order was changed after the condition of one of the patients worsened, and they were sent instead to Sligo, in the Republic of Ireland.

In Halifax, Adm. Dan McNeil explained that Saunders "went unconscious" as he was boarding the helicopter. "That was very disturbing, but we had to get him on and get him off. I understand his heart stopped."

The prime minister gave no explanation for the sudden change in Saunders' condition and the chief of defence staff, Gen. Ray Henault, blamed poor communications.

It was only after the doctor arrived and better communications links were established that "the situation became clearer." Henault said the incident ended "a little more tragically than we expected."

But Henault could give no explanation why Saunders' family was given such poor information about his condition.

Saunders leaves a wife, Gwen, and two young children.

When asked at a news conference in Ottawa if he was still in favour of the acquisition of the four used subs, which have been plagued with technical problems, including leaks, bad valves and a big dent in one hull, Henault said, "Absolutely."