Wed, Aug 09, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Judge rejects plea to hold Cronje's inquest in secret

THE GUARDIAN , CAPE TOWN

A high court judge on Monday rejected an attempt by the family of the disgraced former South African cricket captain, Hansie Cronje, to have the long delayed inquest into his death in an air-crash held in secret.

Justice Siraj Desai, ordered that television cameras and the print media, be allowed into the court despite claims by the state counsel Willem Tarentaal that the media would handle the hearing "insensitively."

Tarentaal told the court that the families of the three men killed in the crash had been subjected to media exposure.

"To subject the families of the deceased to still further coverage in this regard is not in the interests of justice," he said.

Police said neither the families of the other dead men nor Cronje's widow, Bertha, were expected to attend the inquest. They said they had been unable to trace the family of the dead co-pilot, Ian Noakes, 49, who was believed to have relatives in the UK.

Cronje died four years ago when the light-plane in which he was travelling slammed into the Outeniqua mountains near the town of George, in the Eastern Cape. The pilot, Willie Meyer, and co-pilot, Ian Noakes, also died in the crash. Meyer, 69, was an experienced pilot, with more than 20,000 hours flying time to his name.

Cronje made his Test debut against the West Indies in 1992 and went on to play 68 Tests for South Africa including a record 53 as captain. He also played first-class cricket for Free State and Leicestershire.

Initially he was revered as one of the most successful captains in the history of the South African cricket team, but he died in disgrace after a match-fixing scandal. He was banned from the game for life after it was found that he had accepted about US$130,000 to throw matches.

The son of a preacher, Cronje claimed to have been "born again" after killing a child in a road accident in 1991.

He said of the match-fixing scandal: "In a moment of stupidity and weakness I allowed Satan and the world to dictate terms to me. The moment I took my eyes off Jesus my whole world turned dark."

Rumors that he had been murdered have been circulating in South Africa, but no evidence has been produced.

Evidence at yesterday's hearing suggested the crash was as a result of a "chain of errors" familiar to air-crash investigators. In this case they included pilot error, faulty equipment on the aircraft -- a Hawker Siddeley 748 -- and at the airport, as well as poor visibility.

A pilot is heard swearing on the voice cockpit recorder, followed by a ground-proximity alarm saying: "Pull up, pull up," and then silence.

"They didn't see the mountain at all," said an investigator for the Central Aviation Authority, Andre de Kock.

Asked by Judge Desai why the pilot did not react faster, De Kock said it was a "mental thing. It's like you don't believe it and don't react."

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