Inquiry could lead to charge over ultra-race

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2012, 12:00am


The Hong Kong founder of an adventure racing company could face criminal charges in Australia after two runners almost died from third-degree burns suffered in an outback marathon she organised last year.

Mary Gadams, chief executive of ultramarathon organiser RacingThePlanet, answered questions at a parliamentary inquiry in Western Australia this month about events leading up to the September 2 tragedy.

The parliamentary inquiry is not due to report its findings until next month, but state leader Colin Barnett has said he would support criminal charges against Gadams' company if the inquiry recommended it.

Gadams was adamant that a criminal prosecution would not be called for.

'RacingThePlanet does not consider that it is in any way liable for the injuries sustained to five competitors in the Kimberley Ultramarathon,' she told the Sunday Morning Post last week.

The 100-kilometre, three-day marathon was the second that the Sheung Wan-based company had organised in Western Australia. The route was similar to the first race, held in 2010.

Gadams, an American who has lived in Hong Kong for 10 years, maintained that the bushfire that trapped five runners as they made their way through a narrow gorge at El Questro station near Kununurra was 'unexpected and came from a direction from which fire had not been anticipated'.

Two women - Turia Pitt, 24, and Kate Sanderson, 35 - sustained third-degree burns to most of their bodies. Both have been severely disfigured. Pitt, an engineer and former part-time model, must wear a compression suit for the next two years as she recovers.

Gadams was injured with second-degree burns to her hands, arms and legs. Two men were also burned, but less severely.

The inquiry heard the race was organised 'on the cheap' and that organisers refused to heed warnings about fires burning close to the race course.

Gadams said preparations started more than a year before the race took place and that all relevant government agencies were notified.

However, the state's Fire and Emergency Services Authority said it was not properly informed of the route and was unable to see a map of the race, despite requests.

Gadams did not comment on whether she had begun preparing for possible criminal charges. She also refused to answer questions on the company's operating costs, saying it was a private firm.

RacingThePlanet charges marathon participants more than US$3,000 and it is not known how this fee is used.

According to company documents, Gadams is the sole shareholder of Racing the Planet Limited and Racing the Planet Properties Limited, which has mortgages of about HK$13.5 million.

The company hosts races in remote locations including the Gobi, Sahara and Atacama deserts as well as Antarctica.

In 2010, a 31-year-old Shanghai-based American businessman died a few days after collapsing during a Gobi Desert race organised by RacingThePlanet.