Controversial former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje has been killed in a plane crash.

The South African Sports Ministry said Hansie Cronje's plane crashed in the Outeniqua mountains, near the southern coastal city of George. He and two other people, believed to be crewmembers, were reported killed.

A relative said Cronje was traveling to George from his hometown of Bloemfontein early Saturday morning, but bad weather prevented the pilot from landing.

Aviation officials said rescue helicopters were unable to land near the crash site because of the weather. Local news reports say a recovery team eventually reached the site on foot by climbing down the side of a mountain and confirmed that everyone aboard the plane was dead.

Hansie Cronje was 32 years old. Former teammates and other international cricketers have expressed shock, sadness and disbelief at the news of his untimely death. So have South African sports administrators and political leaders.

President Thabo Mbeki issued a statement calling the former national team captain one of South Africa's most talented cricketers. The president said he will remember Cronje for - in his words - "his moments of sheer brilliance on the cricket pitch."

Despite those kind words, it is likely that most people will remember Cronje not for his batting, bowling or captaincy, but for the match-fixing scandal that ended his career.

Wessel Johannes Cronje, known by the nickname "Hansie," became captain of the national side in 1994, at the age of 25. He went on to become South Africa's longest-serving and most successful captain since the country was readmitted to international sporting competition.

But he resigned in disgrace six years later, in March of 2000. He admitted to a board of inquiry that he had repeatedly taken money from bookmakers over a four-year period and had tried to bribe several junior players into under-performing during a tour of India earlier that year.

Cronje denied ever having actually thrown a match, but many cricket analysts believe the world may never know the full truth behind the match-fixing scandal.

Overnight, Hansie Cronje went from national hero to international pariah. He was banned from cricket for life, a ban that was upheld last year after he challenged it in court.

Even after his fall from grace, Cronje maintained close friendships with many players in the national team. His friends and colleagues are remembering him as a devout Christian, a talented cricketer and a charismatic natural leader.

One of the country's top cricket journalists, Peter Robinson, says Cronje's "tragic death ... seems to have drawn a curtain on one of South African cricket's most unhappy tales."