Burnt Australia ultramarathon runners 'should get payout'

Road in Northern Territory
Image caption Race organisers assessed the fire by eye as they drove the course

Two ultramarathon runners who suffered life-threatening burns when they were trapped by bushfire during an event in Australia should receive compensation, a government inquiry has found.

The women were taking part in a 100km (62 mile) race through the Kimberley region when they were forced to run through fire to save their lives.

The event organisers knew the fire was encroaching, but had not put proper procedures in place, the inquiry found.

Three others suffered serious burns.

A parliamentary report into the 2011 Kimberley Ultramarathon has listed numerous failings on the part of the organisers, Racing the Planet.

The Western Australian tourism body, Tourism WA, has also been heavily criticised. It sponsored the event in the hope that it would help promote a positive image for the area.

Five competitors suffered severe burns. The two women, Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson, suffered life-threatening injuries.

Turia Pitt, 25, has to wear a compression suit over her face, neck and body, and lost four fingers and a thumb.

Kate Sanderson, 36, had to have her left foot amputated.

Two other competitors, Martin Van Der Merwe and Michael Hull, had skin grafts. The report recommended that they be compensated too.

Evacuation plans

The event sent runners through the El Questro Wilderness Park, where it was known that fires were burning.

The organisers could have altered the course or cancelled the race, but they did not consult the proper authorities, the inquiry conducted by the Economics and Industry Standing Committee found.

Instead they assessed the fires by driving the course and reporting back on what they could see.

Having decided to go ahead, Racing the Planet did not put the proper safeguards in place.

They did not make adequate arrangements for an emergency helicopter, despite knowing that that was the only means of evacuation from one perilous section of the race route.

Instead of putting an emergency helicopter on standby, they arranged to use a helicopter which had been hired by a media company filming the event, and which was not appropriately equipped.

Organisers had not tested their satellite phones in advance, and the race checkpoints were too far apart given the remoteness of the region, the inquiry found.

According to the report, it became increasingly clear that fire was encroaching on the course, but competitors were not held back at the checkpoint.

Instead, a volunteer was sent into the area alone to re-mark the course.

Competitors then carried on running into the area known as Tier Gorge, where they became engulfed in flames.

'Strong moral case'

The report also criticised Tourism WA, which it says signed a sponsorship agreement without asking to see Racing the Planet's risk management plans.

Nor did they check up on the company's insurance cover.

The report found that there was a "strong moral case" for state compensation for the two women, whose injuries they said "could not be fully comprehended".

"Their physical and emotional recovery is likely to be arduous and to come at significant financial cost," it said.

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