China probes deaths of 21 runners during extreme marathon

Wednesday, May 26th, 2021 00:00 |
Rescue workers at the scene where 21 runners died during a mountain ultra-marathon in north-west China. Photo/AFP

Beijing, Tuesday

An investigation was underway Monday into the deaths of 21 runners during a mountain ultramarathon in northwest China, as harrowing testimony emerged from survivors who battled to safety through freezing temperatures and bone-chilling winds.

The extreme weather struck a high-altitude section of the 100-kilometre (62-mile) race held in the scenic Yellow River Stone Forest in Gansu province Saturday afternoon.

Provincial authorities have set up an investigation team to look into the cause of the incident, state media reported, as questions swirled over why organisers apparently ignored extreme weather warnings from the city’s Early Warning Information Centre in the lead up to the race, which attracted 172 runners.

China’s top sports body also vowed to tighten safety rules on holding events across the country.

Survivors gave shocking testimony of events on the rugged mountainside, where unconfirmed meteorological reports to local media said temperatures had plunged to as low as minus 24 degrees Celsius (minus 11 degrees Fahrenheit).

“The wind was too strong and I repeatedly fell over,” wrote race participant Zhang Xiaotao in a Weibo post.

“My limbs were frozen stiff and I felt like I was slowly losing control of my body... I wrapped my insulation blanket around me, took out my GPS tracker, pressed the SOS button and lost consciousness.”

He said when he came round he discovered a shepherd had carried him to a cave, placed him by the fire and wrapped him in a duvet.

Marathon survivor Luo Jing told state broadcaster CCTV she saw runners struggling back down the mountain wearing only T-shirts and shorts.

They “described to us people foaming at their mouths, and urged us to quit the race as soon as possible,” she said.      - AFP

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