Boat-death Kiwi no mug, say friends

By Rachel Tiffen

Matt Gibson has been arrested after the boat he was driving hit and killed an 11-year-old girl. Photo / Supplied
Matt Gibson has been arrested after the boat he was driving hit and killed an 11-year-old girl. Photo / Supplied

The New Zealander arrested over a boating accident that claimed the life of a British girl is one of our top water-skiers who has competed internationally and grown up around the sport.

Those in the industry say Tauranga's Matt Gibson is very experienced and are frustrated by reports the 22-year-old did not have a "spotter" - a person supervising those being towed - when 11-year-old Mari-Simon Cronje was killed at the prestigious Princes Sporting Club in West London last weekend.

She was one of several youngsters on board an inflatable banana boat - as part of a birthday party outing - when it went over. Horrified bystanders watched as the boat hit her and narrowly missed the others. As the driver, Mr Gibson was arrested and a police spokesman said yesterday he had been released on bail until October.

Thorsten Frobel, president of the Karapiro Waterski Club in the Bay of Plenty where Mr Gibson coaches during New Zealand summers, said a lot of lies had been reported.

"That there were no spotters - meanwhile there were three other people in the boat," he said . "And that the kids had no lifejackets and helmets, meanwhile they had lifejackets and helmets."

Scotland Yard is investigating the death of Mari-Simon, daughter of UBS Wealth Management chief executive Andries Cronje.

Mr Frobel had been told the allegations of no spotter or lifejackets were being driven by someone with a grudge against the club, who had gone to the media.

He said Mr Gibson - who donned the silver fern for the NZ Universities' World Championships in China in 2008 - was very experienced and skilled.

"He's definitely in the top 20 [in New Zealand], I'm not sure if he's in the top 10 but he's definitely up there."

Mr Frobel said budding water-skiers at Karapiro - who ranged in age from 8 to 18 - loved their coach.

"The kids love him, they really love him," Mr Frobel said. "They relate really well to him."

Ed Daniels, who recently stepped down as president of the New Zealand Waterski Association, said Mr Gibson was a good friend of his kids and one of the country's best water-skiers.

"He's been brought up and around the water and knows how to operate a boat, but horrific accidents can happen through a lot of things," he said. "I believe it's being reported as not having any spotters but there were three other people in the boat at the time of the accident."

He could not understand how the accident happened.

"It was in a controlled, man-made lake situation so ... It's the type of thing you'd expect to happen on Lake Taupo on New Year's Day, not in a controlled man-made lake," he said. "So if it's happened to someone like Matty, who's experienced, that's a terrible, terrible thing."

Another Kiwi waterskier, who wished to remain anonymous, had known Mr Gibson for 10 years and described him as a "really nice, friendly, social guy".

"An accident like that is just a mistake," she said.

"It only takes a second for something to go wrong. It's a freak accident that could have happened to anyone."

The friend said Mr Gibson was an experienced driver.

"He has been skiing and driving the boat for years. It's unfair that people are leaving horrible comments about him on YouTube - they don't know him and probably don't know half the story."

- NZ Herald

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