Ultra-marathon tragedy: 21 runners including champion athlete and Paralympic star are killed when hail, freezing rain and high winds hit 62-mile Chinese cross-country mountain race
- Elite Chinese long distance runners Liang Jing and Huang Guanjun among dead
- Extreme weather hit high altitude section of the 62-mile race in Gansu province
- 21 of the 172 participants have reported as died; the other 151 are now safe
- Chinese social media users blamed organisers for perceived failings in planning
- Gansu Meteorological Bureau had warned of adverse weather on Friday
Twenty-one people, including two elite Chinese marathon runners, have died after hail, freezing rain and high winds hit a cross-country mountain race in Gansu province.
The extreme weather struck a high-altitude section of the 62-mile race held in the scenic Yellow River Stone Forest on Saturday afternoon.
Among the dead were top long-distance runners Liang Jing, who has won several ultramarathons in China in recent years and Huang Guanjun, a deaf-mute athlete, who won the men’s hearing-impaired marathon at the 2019 National Paralympic Games in Tianjin.
Rescue workers arrive at a high-altitude section of the 62-mile race held in Gansu province, China, where 21 people are reported to have died during adverse weather conditions
Emergency services were called as the 172 runners found themselves battling adverse weather conditions, including hail, freezing rain and high winds
The rescuers walked up the rugged terrain to reach the survivors, who were suffering from minor injuries and hypothermia, while 21 runners tragically lost their lives
Official news agency Xinhua confirmed that 21 of the 172 participants had died, citing the local rescue command headquarters, while the other 151 are now safe.
Baiyin city mayor Zhang Xuchen said that at around midday on Saturday a section of the rugged ultramarathon course – between the 12th and 19th mile waypoints – was ‘suddenly affected by disastrous weather’.
‘In a short period of time, hailstones and ice rain suddenly fell in the local area, and there were strong winds. The temperature sharply dropped,’ Zhang said.
Emergency workers continued their efforts around the rocky terrain through the night
The rescue was centred around a section of the rugged ultramarathon course – between the 12th and 19th mile waypoints – which was ‘suddenly affected by disastrous weather’
The race, backed by the Baiyin city government and the Chinese Athletic Association, has been held for four successive years before tragedy struck this year
Shortly after receiving messages for help, marathon organisers dispatched a rescue team.
At around 2pm, weather conditions worsened and the race was called off, Zhang said.
Elite Chinese runner Jing Liang was among the 21 people killed following adverse weather during a cross-country mountain race in Gansu province, China, on Saturday
Alongside elite athletes Jing and Guanjun, local media reported father-of-one Lu Zhengyi as one of the victims.
‘As the event’s organiser, we feel a deep sense of guilt and self-blame, express our deep mourning for the victims and deep condolences to their families and the injured runners,’ Zhang said.
The race, backed by the Baiyin city government and the Chinese Athletic Association, has been held for four successive years.
Xinhua reported that some of the runners suffered from hypothermia, and Zhang said earlier that eight people were being treated for minor injuries and were in a stable condition.
Helicopters fly close to the scene in China’s Gansu province in the search for survivors
Video footage broadcast on state media showed emergency rescue personnel in combat fatigues carrying flashlights as they climbed through the rocky terrain at night.
Some marathon participants, wrapped in heavy-duty blankets, were filmed being put on stretchers by rescuers.
Photos published by Chinese media also showed a group of runners huddled together on the mountainside, some wrapped in insulation blankets.
‘My whole body was soaked through, including my shoes and socks. I couldn’t stand up straight because of the wind, I was very worried I’d be blown over. The cold became more and more unbearable,’ one survivor was quoted as saying in local media.
‘While descending the mountain, I was already experiencing hypothermia symptoms.’
Another survivor was quoted as saying most victims were ‘gods’ of the sport who were frontrunners in the race.
‘As soon as I closed my eyes, I saw those who had fallen on the mountain,’ the anonymous runner said.
Screenshots of messages sent in the race participants’ chat group were published in local media.
‘A few people have already lost consciousness and are foaming at the mouth,’ wrote one unidentified participant. ‘Come and save us, quick!’
Chinese social media erupted in mourning and outrage on Sunday, as users blamed organisers for perceived failings in contingency planning.
A man receives treatment after extreme weather descended on the ultra-marathon race
‘The local organisers have an inescapable responsibility for the bad weather in the marathon! Current weather forecast accuracy rates are very high … what kind of emergency plans did they have?’ wrote one user.
Gansu Meteorological Bureau warned of ‘sudden heavy showers, hail, lightning, sudden gale-force winds’ and other adverse weather conditions across the province in a report dated Friday.
A CCTV commentary published Sunday afternoon urged sporting organisers to make failsafe contingency plans, and called on participants to be ‘fully aware of the risks of extreme sports’.
Provincial authorities have set up an investigation team to look into the cause of the incident, state media reported.
Gansu Party Secretary Yin Hong said it was ‘necessary to learn painful lessons’ from the event, state tabloid Global Times reported.
Repeated calls to Baiyin city propaganda department were not answered.
Gansu, one of China’s poorest regions, borders Mongolia to the north and Xinjiang to the west.
Deadly floods and landslides have hit the province in the past, with mudslides reportedly killing more than 1,000 people in one town in 2010.
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