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SAS Emily Hobhouse inspects a lifeboat.

The crews of the South African Navy showed their courage and skill that night. The sea state was bad, total darkness with a 40 knot south-easterly gale, waves of 3 to 6 metres and a sea temperature of about 11 degrees.

The survivors that made it onto the rafts sang songs and told jokes. Those in the water hung onto anything they could find and remained calm, until the searchlight found them, and they were picked up.

The Tafelberg, her icebreaker reinforced bows heavily damaged by the collision, stayed at sea to take part in the rescue.

Note the forefoot of the "PP" out of the water.

The President Pretorius and her crew displayed remarkable seamanship. It was an amazing sight to see how the frigate was manoeuvred with such precision to position herself between survivors and the high seas, thereby calming the waves slightly, and then sliding next to the men in the water to pick them up.

The crew of the ‘PP’ scrambled down the netting suspended over the side to help men out of the water, and the sight of some of her crew carrying rifles at the ready served to remind me in the water of the possible presence of sharks.

The survivors were given hot showers to try and remove the fuel they were all covered in, and given food and much needed comradeship by the ‘PP’s crew, and medical attention to those who needed it for abrasions and cuts.

This was also the first time friends were able to find each other, ensure they were still alive, and to start to realise that some of the crew may not have made it.

The Crew of the PK numbered 193 on that final voyage. 177 would be rescued.

Timeline

03h55: Collison.

04H10: Capt de Lange, OC of ‘PK’ and Senior Officer commanding the naval exercise inspects the ship. She is now beginning to list heavily and it becomes clear she cannot be saved despite strenuous efforts of the crew. The order to abandon ship is given.

04h35: The ‘PK’ sinks in 3000m of water, and disappears off the PP’s radar screen.

05h29: The Tafelberg has sealed off the damaged bow and remains at sea to assist with the rescue, eventually picking up 64 men.

05h55: Silvermine confirms 30 men have already been picked up.

06h00: A team at Silvermine start calling relatives to inform them of the disaster.

06h20: A Shackleton from 35 Squadron and two 30 Squadron Super Frelon helicopters arrive over the area to help search for survivors.


06h30: Two tugs, the Wolraad Woltemade and the Causeway Adventurer are already on their way to the scene.

07h00: Chief of the SADF release a press statement.

111h00: Two injured men arrive by helicopter at Wynberg Military base, and land on the athletics field, which has been cordoned off by Cape Corps soldiers. They are taken to the Wynberg Military hospital.

Inspecting each liferaft for survivors or bodies.

13h00: 110 survivors are listed on the ‘PP’ and 67 on the Tafelberg. The search continues.


20h30: The Chief of the SADF, Constand Viljoen, addresses the relatives gathered at Simonstown Naval Base, and reads a letter from the Prime Minister, PW Botha.

President Pretorius comes alongside with survivors on deck.

21h03: SAS President Pretorius arrives in Simonstown with 110 survivors, who are bussed to a hall where they are given clean clothing, food and R50.




21h33 The Tafelberg arrives with 67 survivors.

Chief of the SADF Gen Constand Viljoen with Capt de Lange

21h45: Captain de Lange and Commander Myers arrive by Navy car at the hall before the rest of the crew arrives, and are greeting by Constand Viljoen, Chief of the SADF, and other officers.

The officers and men awaiting the survivors break out into spontaneous applause when the rest of the survivors enter the hall.