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Last Updated: Friday, 2 January, 2004, 13:06 GMT
Village mourns crash victim
Thomas Harris
Thoms Harris lived in the village of Blaenllechau all his life
Friends of a former post office worker killed in a bus crash on a safari holiday in Africa have expressed their shock at his death.

Police in South Africa have begun investigating the minibus accident in which eight British tourists died.

Thomas Harris, 65, from Blaenllechau, near Ferndale, Rhondda, died after the vehicle overturned as the driver tried to avoid a pedestrian near the town of Bergville.

He was one of five men and three women killed.

A Foreign Office spokesman said it was thought a pedestrian had run into the road, and the driver had tried to swerve.

"It was one of those tragic accidents," he said. "Someone ran out into the road, causing the driver to swerve.

"There was a police investigation. They are not blaming the driver."

Neighbours said Mr Harris - known as Tommy to friends - had a passion for foreign travel and walking.

He had combined his two loves in recent years, travelling to destinations like Patagonia, the Himalayas, and Morocco.

You couldn't wish to meet a nicer person
Neighbour Stuart Murphy

Mr Harris had lived in the village Blaenllechau all his life, working for the Post Office in Pontypridd until he took early retirement to care for his elderly mother, Maud.

He had lived alone since her death, several years ago.

Friends have described him as a kind man who was full of concern for others, helping to look after elderly neighbours.

They said he loved gardening and always seemed happy.

Many in the community have been shocked by his sudden death and have said he will be sorely missed.

Neighbour Rita Murphy said Mr Harris had taken exotic holidays each Christmas.

"He was enjoying his life," she said. "It was just him and his mother for years, and he was living life to the full."

the damaged bus
The minibus driver is thought to have been avoiding a pedestrian
Mr Harris had enjoyed walking and was a keen football fan, going to every Cardiff City home match.

"He was such a lovely fellow - a gentleman who wouldn't hurt a fly," said Mrs Murphy, 57.

"It has knocked us for six."

Her husband, Stuart, 58, said: "You couldn't wish to meet a nicer person. He was such a mild-mannered, unassuming person."

Doris Evans, who had lived next door to Mr Harris for more than 50 years, said: "He was a wonderful neighbour and a gentleman, and a lovely friend to us."

Postal career

Another neighbour, Gareth Palmer, said: "He was a nice chap who kept himself to himself."

Michael Jones, a sub-postmaster in Ferndale, described Mr Harris as "a very fine man".
They (the minibus company) are fully licensed ... we put safety at a premium for all our holidays worldwide
Spokesman from Exodus Travel

Mr Harris had worked at the head office in nearby Pontypridd, supervising the sub-post offices in the area.

Mr Jones, 68, said he heard the news of Mr Harris's death from a customer. He would be very sadly missed by the community, he added.

The other victims were named as: Roger and Linda Pearce, 60 and 49, from Rickmansworth, Hertfordshire; 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.

The tourists were on a safari holiday when the accident happened on New Year's Eve.

The minibus driver and three other passengers were hurt and were treated in hospital.

The group was on a walking safari holiday and travelling to the Royal Natal National Park to carry out a trek when the tragedy happened.

The minibus crashed on the R74 road between Harrismith and Bergville, in the Royal Natal National Park at around 1630 GMT, KwaZulu-Natal police said.

The British tourists were all travelling with tour operator Exodus Travel.

A company spokesman said the minibus company was known to the tour operator and had been used many times before.

"They (the minibus company) are fully licensed ... we put safety at a premium for all our holidays worldwide," he said.

The managing director of Exodus had arrived in South Africa to assist in the arrangements and to offer assistance.

The company was also helping relatives of the dead who needed travel assistance in getting to South Africa.




SEE ALSO:
May Day bus tragedy hits SA
01 May 03  |  Africa


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