South Africa mourns 3 Navy submariners swept to their deaths by high waves

Three South African Navy personnel died Wednesday after being swept off the SAS Manthatisi submarine at Kommetjie near Cape Town Wednesday. SAS Manthatisi photo courtesy of South African Navy Facebook

Sept. 21 (UPI) -- Three South African Navy submariners died Wednesday after high waves washed seven of them from a surfaced submarine off the Cape Town Coast near Kommetjie, according to the South African government.

Other crew members, including a senior officer in critical condition, are hospitalized.

Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector, the first woman submarine commander with that rank in South Africa, was among the dead.

Besides Hector, the dead included Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa and Warrant Officer Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela, according to the South African government news agency SA News.

The South African National Defense Force said, "A distress call was made to Cape Town Radio, who were then dispatched to the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) from Kommetjie. All seven members were recovered but sadly there were three fatalities, with one senior official in critical condition."

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement, "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. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families, friends, commanders and colleagues of the crew members we have lost.

The government said the South African Navy submarine SAS Manthatisi was en route to Cape Town "while conducting a vertical transfer (VERTREP) by means of a SA Air Force Maritime Lynx helicopter, when high waves swept seven crew members out to sea."

South African Parliament defense committee chair Cyril Xaba expressed deep sadness at the news in a statement.

"The committee sends its heartfelt condolences to the families, friends and colleagues of the deceased Navy officers. The committee is with them during this very difficult time and wishes the naval marines who survived the incident a speedy recovery," the statement said.