David Duckenfield told the Hillsborough inquests he "froze" before ordering the opening of an exit gate to relieve congestion at the FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest.
Under questioning from barrister Paul Greaney, Duckenfield accepted that the crush would not have taken place if fans had been prevented from going down a tunnel.
Greaney put it to Duckenfield that the failure to close the tunnel was "the direct cause of the deaths of 96 persons." Duckenfield replied: "Yes sir."
New inquests are being held after the original verdicts of accidental death were overturned.