Chain of events blamed for Hansie Cronje crash

Pilot error, faulty equipment and inclement weather all contributed to the plane crash that claimed the life of former national cricket captain Hansie Cronje, an inquest heard on Monday.

The Hawker Siddeley 748, piloted by Willem Meyer (69) and Ian Noakes (49), crashed into the Outeniqua mountain range outside George on June 1 2002.

Cronje had hitched a lift from Bloemfontein, unaware of what lay ahead as the aircraft barrelled into a ridge of Vandalenskloof at about 240kph in the early hours of the morning.

The impact caused the fuselage to split in three, with the cockpit bearing the brunt of the collision, folding inwards and underneath the wreckage, witness Dr Andre de Kock told the inquest in the Cape High Court on Monday.

De Kock, a senior accident investigator with the Civil Aviation Authority, told the inquest the pilots had not correctly followed a “missed approach” procedure after initially flying over the runway because their first run was too high.

De Kock told the inquest that if a specially designated flight pattern had been correctly followed, and the aircraft had proceeded to the “known point” eight-mile beacon before reattempting to land, the chances of hitting surrounding mountains would have been minimised.

“They didn’t see the mountain at all,” said De Kock of the low visibility caused by cloud cover.

Adding to the pilots’ “loss of situational awareness” was a brisk wind that had caused the aircraft to drift further off course than anticipated, taking them over the town and not out to sea as was expected.

The pilots also seemed to disregard initial warnings—a call of “pull up, pull up” that sounded after the ground proximity warning system was triggered.

Asked by presiding officer Judge Siraj Desai why the crew did not respond quickly enough, De Kock suggested that it was a “mental thing”.

“It’s like you don’t believe and don’t react on it,” said De Kock.

Led by state advocate Willem Tarantal, De Kock said there was a sharp gradient relating to cockpit management, where it seemed the co-pilot did not double-check and challenge the pilot-in-command, Meyer.

Meyer was vastly experienced, having flown more than 20 000 hours, while Noakes had less than 2 000 hours under his belt.

De Kock said the aircraft, then managed by Airquarius Aviation, had several defects, chief among them a defective horizontal situation indicator, as well as a directional gyroscope with two unconnected wires.

The Civil Aviation Authority’s final accident report mentions that the aircraft was “technically unairworthy”.

De Kock, however, emphasised on Monday there was no indication that the pilots received incorrect information from their instruments.

Also at the George aerodrome, the instrument landing system, a navigational aid to help guide aircraft safely to the ground, was not working properly.

None of the families of the deceased were at Monday’s proceedings before Desai and two assessors, Bruce Hyde and Hendrik Venter.

Earlier, an attempt by Tarantal to bar the public and media from the inquest failed.

“The families, I understand, want to get this matter finalised as soon as possible ... To subject the families of the deceased to still further media coverage in this regard is not in the interests of justice,” said Tarantal.

Desai, however, noted that inquest hearings were as a matter of course open proceedings.

He asked Tarantal if his motivation was based on a presupposition that the media would report insensitively on the proceedings, and Tarantal said it was.

Desai questioned representatives of the South African Broadcasting Corporation and e.tv, whose cameras were set up in the courtroom, and then said he had satisfied himself that they would handle the inquest sensitively.

“I order that the proceedings may be televised,” Desai said.

Desai reserved judgement on a related application by print media for access to crash photographs, including images of the bodies of the dead men, saying he would deal with that when the photographs were handed in as evidence.

The inquest continues on Tuesday.—Sapa

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