UPDATE: Crane ‘hijacker’ appears in court

THE 31-year-old man who commandeered a crane in the Richards Bay CBD on Monday told rescuers he was hiding from men who were hunting him because he had orchestrated a plot to assassinate Nelson Mandela.

It took nearly two hours of negotiation by police and medics to coax Dylan Gradwell out of the crane after he had barricaded himself in and refused to come down.

This after Gradwell had clambered up nearly six storeys to the operator’s cabin of the crane on Sunday afternoon and made himself at home for the night.

He was discovered by construction workers arriving on site just after 8am.

Gradwell appeared before a Richards Bay magistrate on Tuesday facing a charge of trespassing and malicious damage to property.

He was remanded in custody and is scheduled to appear again on 10 January.

Initial reports indicated the incident was a hostage situation but it later emerged that Gradwell was alone.

SAPS members confirmed to reporters at the scene he had told them he had another man in the cabin with him, leading to fears he had taken the crane driver hostage.

He was reportedly incoherent and gave different reasons for being inside the crane, but two of the rescuers confirmed he repeated the Mandela assassination plot story at least twice during negotiations.

IPSS Medical Rescue’s Richard Schouten, Empangeni SAPS Search and Rescue officers as well as Richards Bay municipal firefighters coordinated on the ground to bring the man to safety.

‘We now know what difficulties we will face if we are ever dealing with a situation where a crane operator has a medical emergency such as a heart attack while still inside the cabin,’ said Schouten.

‘Fortunately the police negotiator managed to convince him to open the trap door, which he was standing on the entire time, effectively preventing us from gaining access,’ he said.

The crane is situated on the construction site of a new medical centre behind Netcare The Bay Hospital in central Richards Bay.


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Kyle Cowan and Conelia Harry

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