HK events company to face Australian inquiry

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 March, 2012, 12:00am


A Hong Kong-based company that thought it had been cleared of any wrongdoing for continuing with an Australian ultra-marathon which ended with a bush fire engulfing part of the course, critically injuring two runners, will instead now face a state parliamentary inquiry into the event.

Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett has agreed to hold an inquiry into the 100-kilometre Kimberley Ultra-marathon, organised by Racing The Planet on September 2.

It is a major U-turn for the state government, which initially found there was no need for a formal inquiry. In December a statement from Western Australia's Deputy Premier and Health and Tourism Minister Dr Kim Hames signalled that no inquiry was planned.

However, relentless campaigning by the brother of one of the injured runners has changed the state government's mind. Ian Sanderson has been calling for an inquiry since his sister Kate nearly died after suffering life-threatening burns. The 35-year-old Melbourne woman and Turia Pitt, 24, a model from Sydney, 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 allowing the race go ahead.

'Surely those whose lives have been devastated... have a right to know how and why they were put in harm's way ... while taking part in a government-sponsored and promoted event,' Ian Sanderson told The West Australian newspaper.

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

She reiterated that her company was not warned of the risk that fires posed to people in the Kimberley area at that time of the year, despite discussions with a number of local people, owners of the land which the ultra-marathon course passed over and local government authorities.

'In terms of the government inquiry we are hopeful that issues are addressed like the lack of warning given by government agencies to tourists and Racing The Planet about the risk of fire in the area generally... and the limited assistance that was provided by government agencies during the rescue,' Gadams said.

Racing The Planet, which has run adventure races in locations such as the Gobi and Sahara deserts, came under criticism in Australian media from runners, medics and police.