South Africa’s first female submarine navigator, Lt Cdr Gillian Malouw, was among the three officers who died at sea on Wednesday, the military has confirmed.
The three submariners were washed off their vessel by high waves off the coast near Cape Town.
A helicopter was delivering supplies when the incident happened.
Lt Malouw, who was 32, joined the navy in 2010, qualified as a combat officer in 2018 and became a navigator in 2019.
She described that as her “dream job”.
Lt Cdr Malouw died alongside Master Warrant Officer William Masela Mathipa and Warrant Officer Mmokwapa Lucas Mojela.
President Cyril Ramaphosa described their deaths as “a sad loss for our nation”.
The authorities have set up an inquiry into Wednesday’s incident.
Seven submariners, who had been helping deliver supplies to their vessel, were swept away in the rough seas, the South African National Defence Force said.
A rescue operation was launched and the lives of four officers were saved. They are being treated in hospital and one is in a critical condition, the president said.
Lt Cdr Malouw had been described as the first female navigator in Africa and one of the few women in that role in the world.
In an interview with Cape Talk radio station in 2019, Lt Malouw said she developed a passion for the sea as a young girl.
“The world is filled with naysayers and negativity but no-one can take away what you’ve learnt and no-one can take away your dreams,” she says.
“If you truly want something, do everything in your power to make it happen,” she told South African website News24.