It is the height of the Cold War. A nuclear-missile-equipped Soviet submarine sinks in the Pacific Ocean, in suspicious circumstances. The CIA commissions reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes to secretly build a massive ship capable of lifting the submarine off the ocean floor using a colossal extendable claw. The ship is built, christened the "Glomar Explorer," and — disguised as a deep-sea mining vessel — sent on a top-secret recovery mission. Out on the high seas, the Glomar's claw locks onto the sub and raises it toward the surface — until it breaks into pieces with the crew watching helplessly. The crew recovers only a portion of it, the entombed bodies of Russian seamen still inside.