South African Coach Crash: Workaholic boss forced to take a holiday died saving his wife in tour death crash
Wednesday 29 September 1999
While crash investigators were sifting through the wreckage of the tourists' Springbok Atlas coach, a chill wind tugged at the damp grass and rustled the strewn remains of a dream holiday - a shopping bag from Cape Town, a baggage tag from the Sabi Sabi game reserve, a blood-stained rubber glove discarded by a frantic rescue worker the day before.
The bodies of 26 of the British tourists lay in the mortuaries at the town's hospital and funeral parlour yesterday, awaiting formal identification; another six passengers who had miraculously survived Monday's crash were in Lydenburg hospital, awaiting transfer by air to a private clinic in Johannesburg; and three seriously injured holidaymakers lay in intensive care at the provincial hospital at Nelspruit.
Among the dead was a workaholic company boss who went on holiday to South Africa only because his wife persuaded him that he needed to relax. And he may have died while saving her from serious injury when the vehicle careered off a mountain road.
Friends, family members and work colleagues yesterday paid tribute to Tony Sparrowe, 63. His wife Jane, 56, survived, and has been flown to the Johannesburg clinic for treatment for a broken leg and concussion. Speaking from the couple's home in Kirk Ella, near Hull, their 32-year- old daughter, Adele, said that her mother was aware of Mr Sparrowe's death. "From what we've heard, it seems that mum wasn't too badly hurt because dad protected her," she said.
Nigel Thacker, chief engineer at Northern Divers Ltd, the Hull company that Mr Sparrowe founded in 1963, said that the couple had been planning the trip for a year but, as usual, it was Mrs Sparrowe who had been the instigator of the holiday, ensuring that he got away from his desk. In recent years the couple, married for 35 years and with three children and five grandchildren, had travelled to Canada, India and China.
As other British communities waited for their own confirmation of tragedy, the Foreign Office said that the dead came from as far afield as Essex, Norfolk, Cleveland, Surrey, Shropshire, Berkshire, west Yorkshire, Somerset, Northamptonshire, Middlesex, Devon, London, Humberside and Staffordshire. A South African tour guide also died.
Due to the gruesome nature of the injuries suffered by the passengers when the bus left the road, exact identification of the victims was still proving difficult, a spokesman said. But the identities of seven of the nine tourists who survived were today released by the Foreign Office and local hospital authorities. They are a tour guide, Ms Sandover, 45; Mrs Sparrowe; Lesley Dick, 36, from Worthing, West Sussex; Shirley Wood, 62, from Hertfordshire; Harry Smith, 51, from Surrey; Barry Watson, 59, from Birmingham; and Dennis Dryden, from Surrey, for whom no age was available. The two other Britons were understood to be a man and a woman, both of whom suffered serious injuries and were detained in hospital at Lydenburg, along with the South African coach driver, who is still conscious despite serious leg injuries.
At lunchtime yesterday a police spokesman, Inspector Gerrit Smit, said that the driver had been interviewed and was claiming that the brakes on his coach had failed as it came to one of the last bends on the scenic Long Tom Pass, a 35-mile route across the Transvaal Drakensberg Escarpment.
According to Inspector Smit, a formal investigation had already been opened and it was possible that the driver would be charged with culpable homicide if he was found to be at fault.
On the hillside above Lydenburg experts from Pretoria were examining the scene of the crash to try to determine what really happened to the Best of Africa tour. They photographed the desperate skidmarks that swerved back and forth across the steep, narrow and twisiting road, and took note of the positions of the little yellow traffic cones which marked the final resting places of 27 dead.
Just above them, on the second last sharp bend of the pass, a yellow sign indicated to descending drivers that a gravel trap waited below to stop runaway vehicles with failing brakes. Yesterday, just as the forensic science experts were driving off, a pick-up truck towing two overloaded trailers of timber screamed past the accident site, smoke pouring from its brakes.
Three kilometres down the road, it swerved off the long straight leading to the edge of Lydenburg and into the deep, crunching bed of gravel. It shuddered to a halt within 20 yards and one of the traffic policeman descending from the crash site above stopped to write it a ticket. Had the death coach survived the mountain's last two bends on Monday, it and its passengers would have escaped at least as lightly.
The death of so many overseas visitors has deepened the unseasonable gloom in a region that depends a great deal on its position at a tourist crossroads.
Yesterday morning the local Dutch Reformed Minister, the Reverend Piet Bezuidenhout, took flowers to Lydenburg hospital for the victims still being treated within. Each little basket of blooms was labelled simply "to a friend". As Mrs Hantie Bezuidenhout explained, they did not even know the names of the victims being treated within but they were still in the prayers of all the townspeople.
"We are sharing their grief and we are praying for them," she told the throng of journalists shivering outside the tiny hospital. "It is a horrible thing."
At the other end of Lydenburg's social scale Stan, an ageing highveld drifter with soft eyes, was sitting outside the liquor store on Voortrekker Street, waiting for a random lift to somewhere else or a soft touch for a beer. Today he wanted more than a coin, however.
"You see this thing about the bus yesterday," he said, pausing just outside the liquor store door. "I read about this morning in Afrikaans, in the newspaper. It is a terrible thing. So many people who were just out to enjoy themselves. It's a real shame."
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