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Last Updated: Saturday, 3 January, 2004, 15:14 GMT
Minibus driver faces police probe
Minibus
The minibus crashed in the Royal Natal National Park
The driver of the South African minibus that crashed killing eight UK tourists is facing a police investigation.

Officers are to examine a preliminary report by officials that concluded the driver was not properly licensed.

Investigators from the transport department in the northern KwaZulu-Natal province accept that a man caused the accident by stepping into the road.

But they said there were other factors which led to Wednesday's tragedy, in which the driver was injured.

Their preliminary investigation said a trailer on the minibus did not have a proper braking system and had an expired licence disc.

And driver Christopher Kampfert, 24, did not have a licence to cover a vehicle as heavy as the Mercedes Sprinter bus, it concluded.

"It's like having a licence to drive a car but driving a bus," provincial transport spokesman Logan Maistry said.

"If the driver had made sure that everything that should have been was in the angle of the law then the impact and severity of the crash would probably have been reduced."

The investigators found speed could also have been a factor in the crash, but are accepting that the pedestrian who walked out in the road - apparently to commit suicide - caused the accident.

Relatives

David Gillespie, managing director of UK-based Exodus Travels which organised the tour, has flown to South Africa.

A spokesperson for the firm said: "His principle concern is to give all possible assistance to relatives of victims of this tragic accident."

The spokesman said the company still understood the driver had a proper licence and that the vehicle met all the legal requirements, but he emphasised that they were waiting for the official investigation to confirm the facts.

Earlier, Mr Gillespie told BBC News: "The safety of our customers and staff is always uppermost in our minds when planning any trip and we will continue to work with the South African authorities, the British Consulate and the Foreign Office in the ensuing investigations, as well as launching an internal inquiry."

Linda and Roger Pearce
He's left three daughters and their grandpa absolutely distressed and distraught
Roger Pearce's brother

The families of the victims of the crash, in which three other tourists and a tour guide were injured, have spoken of their grief.

Roger and Linda Pearce, from Hertfordshire, left three daughters.

Mr Pearce's brother Geoffrey said the family was "shocked and distressed" by the deaths near the town of Bergville on Wednesday.

British relatives of the dead have begun flying to the region.

Mr and Mrs Pearce's three daughters Claire, 23, Victoria, 25, and Nicola, 18, were being supported at home by their grandfather and uncle.

Tribute was also paid by friends of keen walker Thomas Harris, 65, from Blaenllechau, Ferndale, Rhondda.

Mr Harris worked for the Post Office from the age of 15 and was a keen Cardiff City fan.

The tourists were on a walking safari tour and travelling through the Royal Natal National Park.

According to witnesses, a pedestrian apparently jumped in front of the vehicle they were in.

The bus swerved and overturned on the R74 road between Harrismith and Bergville and plunged into a ditch.

Other victims

South African police spokesman Captain Joshua Gwala said the pedestrian, identified as Pelepele Miya, may have had mental health problems.

Mr Miya, a South African, died at the scene.

Two other British tourists, a Canadian, the South African driver and a tour guide were also hurt in the accident.

The other victims were named as: Neil Pike, 35, and Christine Rowe, 30, a couple from Preston, Lancashire; retired couple, Stephen and Marion Moon from Maidstone, Kent; and Dr Anthony Egan from Surbiton, Surrey, 65.

The two British survivors of the accident were Andrew Robertson, believed to be 58, and Sonia Willhoft, believed to be 61.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Fergal Keane
"Speed may have been a contributory factor"



SEE ALSO:
Crash couple were to marry
02 Jan 04  |  Lancashire
Tourists die in SA bus crash
31 Oct 02  |  Africa


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