BEIJING – Twenty-one people participating in a mountain ultramarathon have died in northwest China after hail, freezing rain and high winds hit the high-altitude race, state media reported on Sunday .
After an overnight rescue operation in freezing temperatures involving more than 700 people, rescuers were able to confirm 151 people were safe, out of a total of 172 participants. Twenty-one were dead, according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency, which said the runners were suffering from physical discomfort and the sudden drop in temperature.
The runners were running on an extremely narrow mountain trail at an elevation of up to 6,500 to 9,800 feet. The 100-kilometer, or 60-mile, race took place on Saturday at the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin Town, Gansu Province.
The participants were not beginners. One of those who died was a well-known runner Liang Jing, who won a 100-kilometer race in Ningbo, the Paper, a state-supported newspaper based in Shanghai, reported.
A woman who worked for the race organizer, Gansu Shengjing Sports Culture Development Co., said there was no severe weather forecast for race day, according to Beijing News, a government-owned newspaper. of the city of Beijing.
However, the local Baiyin city branch of the National Early Warning Information Center had warned over the past three days of hail and high winds.
The race also followed a relatively established course, having taken place four times, according to a report posted online by a race participant who dropped out and managed to get to safety.
But the weather caught them off guard, and by race morning Saturday he already sensed things weren’t normal. The runners weren’t dressed for the winter conditions, many wore short-sleeved tops.
“I ran 2 kilometers before the starting gun fired to warm up … but the problem was that after running those 2 kilometers my body still hadn’t warmed up,” said the competitor. in a first person account that was seen. more than 100,000 times on his WeChat “Wandering about the South” account.
He later told the newspaper that the forecast the day before the race did not predict the extreme weather conditions they encountered.
The most difficult section, from mile 15 to mile 22, climbed 3,280 feet. There he said the path was just a mixture of stones and sand, and his fingers went numb with the cold.
When he finally decided to turn around, he was already feeling dizzy. He said he was able to get to safety and met a rescue team. He did not respond to a request for comment left on his social media account.
Some runners further along the route had fallen off the trail into deep mountain crevices, according to a reporter with public broadcaster CCTV. It is not known how many of them survived.
Video footage showed lifeguards in winter jackets in the dark night searching for flashlights along steep hills and narrow paths. Search operations ended at noon on Sunday, rescuers told Xinhua.
Online, some wondered what, if anything, organizers had done in emergency preparations. The race organizer did not immediately respond to calls for comment on Sunday.
Baiyin City Mayor Zhang Xuchen held a press conference later on Sunday and deeply apologized as the organizer of the event. The government has promised a full investigation.
“We express our sincere condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and injured,” said the mayor.
Associated Press writer Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan and researcher Henry Hou in Beijing contributed to this report.