HK firm in clear over blaze-hit ultra-race

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 December, 2011, 12:00am


A Hong Kong-based company says it has been vindicated for continuing with an Australian ultra-marathon which ended in disaster when a bush fire engulfed part of the course, critically injuring two runners.

Racing The Planet chief executive Mary Gadams was among those taken to hospital with second-degree burns on her hands, arms and legs.

But she said she was happy with the response from the West Australian government, which found there was no need for a formal inquiry into the incident.

A statement from Western Australia's Deputy Premier and Health and Tourism Minister Dr Kim Hames eased the pressure on the company, which organised the 100-kilometre Kimberley Ultra-marathon in Western Australia on September 2 when flames swept through the bush.

Sydney model Turia Pitt, 24, and marathon veteran Kate Sanderson, 35, were among 11 runners trapped in a narrow gorge at El Questro Station near Kununurra as bush fires suddenly changed direction.

They sustained burns to 80 per cent of their bodies and Racing The Planet was criticised for letting the race go ahead.

Sanderson claimed the right to 'know the chain of events that have led me to currently be in my hospital bed' and called for an inquiry.

But the Sunday Times in Perth reported that Hames felt an inquiry was not needed.

'It is with regret that, based on all the advice received, I accept there is no capacity for me as a minister, or the state government, to investigate the matter in a manner that would provide answers sought by Kate [Sanderson], [Turia] Pitt and their families and friends,'' Hames said in a statement to Sanderson's family.

Hames said that any inquiry was likely to be hindered by jurisdictional limitations because the organiser, Racing The Planet, was based overseas and company directors would not be compelled to appear, but could give evidence voluntarily.

'The private entity was outside the bounds of WA's Public Sector Management Act and there does not appear to be any suggestion of impropriety or inadequacy in the actions of any public sector department or agency in relation to the tragedy that unfolded,' he said.

Gadams said: 'The WA tourism minister's response was true and I agree with it. WA Tourism was the one sponsoring the race and we have always said from the start that we've nothing to hide.

'We will have our own full report published as soon as we hear from WA's Fire and Emergency Services Authority.

'They are looking at where the fire came from and how it started.'

Gadams, 47, an American who started her company in 2002 and has lived in Hong Kong for 10 years, always maintained her organisation took all required safety precautions.

She said only 15 kilometres of the race was off-road and tourists had been wandering around happily before any bush fire was spotted.