In a devastating turn of events, three South African Navy personnel have lost their lives due to a freak submarine incident at sea. This tragic incident occurred when a routine supply transfer operation took a catastrophic turn, resulting in the loss of precious lives and leaving the nation in mourning.
The Ill-Fated Vertical Transfer Attempt
The incident unfolded on a fateful Wednesday during an operation involving the SAS Manthatisi submarine. An Air Force Lynx helicopter was engaged in what is commonly known as a “vertrep” or vertical replenishment of supplies to the submarine, which was positioned on the ocean surface off the coast of Cape Town.
The intention behind this operation was to efficiently transfer essential supplies to the submarine. However, the operation took a nightmarish turn as the helicopter’s attempt at vertical transfer coincided with the emergence of colossal sea waves.
The Tragic Outcome
As the helicopter attempted the vertical transfer, massive waves struck the submarine, sweeping seven crew members off its deck. This sudden and catastrophic event led to immediate alarm, prompting the cancellation of the operation and the initiation of a rescue effort.
Despite the valiant rescue efforts put forth, the outcome was heart-wrenching. While all seven submariners were eventually recovered from the turbulent waters, three of them tragically lost their lives. Additionally, a senior officer was left in critical condition due to the ordeal. A crew member dispatched as a “surface swimmer” to assist in the rescue operation also faced a harrowing experience but was eventually recovered and is now hospitalized, alongside the four surviving submariners.
Swift Response by Emergency Services
Recognizing the gravity of the situation, the National Sea Rescue Institute and other emergency services were swiftly summoned to provide assistance. The Department of Defence announced that an inquiry would be conducted to investigate the failed operation and the resulting loss of lives, emphasizing the need to understand the circumstances that led to this tragedy.
The Department of Defence identified the three victims as Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector, Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa, and Warrant Officer Class One Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela. Notably, Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector had made history as the first woman to navigate a military submarine for any African nation. Her untimely demise is a profound loss for South Africa and its armed forces.
Rough Seas Amidst “Spring Tide”
The incident occurred amidst a backdrop of extremely rough seas in Cape Town and other areas along South Africa’s south coast. These rough sea conditions were attributed to a natural phenomenon known as “spring tide.” The challenging maritime conditions added an extra layer of complexity to the already risky operation.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences, saying, “This is a sad loss for our nation and for our brave armed forces in particular who routinely face danger in order so that all of us can be safe and secure.” He extended his wishes for the injured personnel’s full recovery, both physically and psychologically, acknowledging the trauma they endured during this tragic incident.
President Ramaphosa also commended the efforts of all those involved in the rescue and recovery operation, highlighting their selfless dedication.
In a touching gesture of solidarity and remembrance, members of the public began bringing flowers to the Navy Museum in Simon’s Town, where a chapel has been set up in memory of the victims.
This heart-wrenching incident serves as a solemn reminder of the sacrifices made by the brave individuals serving in the armed forces and the inherent risks they face, even during routine operations. As the nation mourns the loss of these heroes, it also stands united in offering support to the affected families and praying for the full recovery of the injured.