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First South African woman submariner dies in freak incident off Cape Town

CAPE TOWN — The South African National Defence Force (SANDF) yesterday named three submariners who died in an incident off the coast of Cape Town on Wednesday.

Lieutenant Commander Gillian Elizabeth Hector was named among three who died when a large wave struck the SAS Manthatisi while being resupplied at sea.

Hector was celebrated in South Africa, as being the first female officer on the African continent to navigate a submarine.

Submarine struck by large wave

According to the SANDF, the submarine — one of three German-built Type 209/1400 Heroine-class submarines in the South African naval fleet — had been heading towards Cape Town and was conducting what it called a “vertical replenishment” operation involving a helicopter.

A large wave struck the vessel, sweeping a number of crew members off the deck.

The replenishment operation was immediately called off and a rescue effort was launched after the navy personnel were swept into the sea.

“All seven members were recovered but sadly there were three fatalities, with one senior official in critical condition,” the SANDF said.

Female officer found inside vessel

The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said that one female officer had to be extricated from inside the vessel.

“Sadly, despite extensive CPR efforts, the female officer was declared deceased,” the NSRI said in a statement.

Local advocacy group, Women for Change, posted a tribute to Hector and her crew members on social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, and extended condolences to the families of the deceased.

Cape Town and other coastal areas have been hit by extremely rough seas over the past week, caused by a phenomenon known as “spring tide”.

In a separate incident which occurred on the same day, four South African soldiers were killed when an army truck which was being towed by another truck, overturned following a burst tyre. — DW

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