Three members of the South African navy were killed and a senior officer was in critical condition when seven crew members of a submarine were swept off its deck by large waves as a helicopter attempted to transport supplies, the defense ministry said on Thursday.
Wednesday’s accident occurred as an Air Force Lynx helicopter was attempting what is known as a vertical replenishment of supplies to the SAS Manthatisi submarine on the surface of the ocean off the coast of Cape Town, the department said.
Also on Wednesday, four soldiers were killed and two others were seriously injured in a separate road accident near the town of Upington. These deaths occurred when two SAMIL 50 military trucks, one towing the other, rolled due to a flat tire. The soldiers were thrown out and one of the trucks landed on top of them, the department said in a separate statement.
The two fatal accidents happened about three hours apart. It is rare for there to be multiple deaths in South African armed forces accidents, let alone two such fatal accidents occurring on the same day.
The submarine operation was immediately called off and a rescue operation was launched after the navy personnel were swept into the sea.
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All seven submarines were recovered, but three were pronounced dead. A helicopter crew member who was sent as a “surface swimmer” to assist in the rescue operation was also rescued and is in hospital along with the four surviving submariners.
The National Maritime Rescue Institute and other emergency services were called in to help with the rescue, the Ministry of Defense said. There will be an investigation into the botched operation and the resulting deaths, the department said.
The South African National Defense Force, which includes all armed forces, said a female officer with the rank of lieutenant was among those killed. The victims were named after their families were notified.
Cape Town and other areas on South Africa’s southern coast have been hit by extremely rough seas since last weekend, caused by a phenomenon known as a ‘spring tide’.
South African armed forces analyst Dean Wingreen told the defenseWeb website that the submarine was moving to Cape Town’s waterfront for a three-day naval exhibition starting on Saturday. The navy has planned the display to mark South Africa’s national holiday Heritage Day on Sunday.
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SAS Manthatisi is one of three German-built Heroine-class Type 209/1400 submarines in the South African Navy’s fleet and had returned to the water earlier this year following maintenance work.