Mountain ride in giant inflatable 'zorb' turns deadly in Russia

Authorities will investigate shocking accident involving two men in a giant inflatable ball

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 January, 2013, 4:58am

Russia has launched an investigation into the death of a 27-year-old man in an inflatable "zorb" ball that tumbled down a mountainside in a horrific accident that was caught on video.

Denis Burakov, 27, died of his injuries after he and a friend, Vladimir Shcherbov, 33, paid to roll in the zorb down an unfenced snow slope at a ski resort in the Karachayevo-Cherkessia region of the Northern Caucasus.

Zorbing is an extreme adventure sport invented in the 1990s in which participants roll down slopes strapped inside large transparent plastic balls.

The men's terrifying ride prompted the head of the national emergency rescue services to demand that Russia address its lax enforcement of safety rules for winter sports, citing a series of recent accidents.

"We have launched a criminal case into causing death through providing unsafe services," said Sergei Shuvayev, spokesman for the regional investigative committee. The charge carries a maximum sentence of six years.

The zorb veered off a snowy track and rolled into a gorge, continuing for about a kilometre before stopping on a frozen lake, investigators said. The accident occurred on January 3.

"As a result of the fall, Burakov died of his injuries, while Shcherbov is in hospital with serious injuries," investigators said. Shcherbov "is in a serious state but his life is not in danger", Shuvayev said yesterday.

Investigators had identified two organisers who had not been detained, but "will be questioned in the near future", Shuvayev said.

As Burakov got into the zorb, an unnamed friend - who filmed the horror - is heard saying: "Denis, you'll be like Jackie Chan in the Armour of God movie!"

An instructor is asked how far the 'orb' can go, replying "not that far" and explaining there was a man lower down the mountain ready to catch it if it went off track.

But as it is pushed down the slope, a man's voice is heard saying: "Oh f***, it's gone in the wrong direction again." Suddenly the male voice screams: "Hold it, hold it! Hold!" Then he says: "Ah well, it's OK, it'll stop by itself."

The ball crashes through rocks and teeters on the edge of ravine - before disappearing from view, over the cliff.

In the video, organisers can be heard saying the ride costs 300 roubles (US$10) per person.

People watching can be heard asking organisers: "What is down there?" as the zorb rolls over the edge of the gorge.

"A catastrophe," one replies.

The New Zealand inventors of zorbing described the death as "very troubling".

Agence France-Presse, Associated Press