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Payouts urged for Australia marathon fire victims
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) Aug 16, 2012

Australian officials on Thursday said two women runners left with serious and disfiguring injuries after a wildfire swept through a 2011 ultra-marathon should receive government compensation.

An official inquiry into the 100-kilometre (60-mile) Racing the Planet footrace through Western Australia state's outback Kimberley region found "critical shortcomings" by the race's Hong Kong-based organisers.

Four runners were badly burned when a wildfire swept through the race course and trapped them in a gorge in the El Questro Wilderness Park including two women who suffered critical injuries to 60 percent of their bodies.

The inquiry found that Racing the Planet had been aware of fires in the area ahead of the race but had failed to consult the proper authorities about whether the course should be moved or the event cancelled.

It did not make adequate arrangements for a helicopter in case of an emergency in the remote area and had not tested key communications equipment including satellite phones ahead of time.

"These issues conspired to leave Racing The Planet exposed when critical decisions needed to be made about a reported fire threat to the race course," the state government's economics and industry standing committee found.

The injured runners had to wait in agony for more than two hours for help due to the communications and transport issues.

One woman, Turia Pitt, 25, has to wear a compression suit over her face, neck and body and lost four fingers and a thumb while another, Kate Sanderson, 36, had her left foot amputated due to the burns.

Michael Hull and South African Martin van der Merwe also needed skin grafts for their burn injuries.

The inquiry said that Pitt and Sanderson's "physical and emotional recovery is likely to be arduous and to come at a significant financial cost".

It noted that the state government's tourism authority had sponsored the event and stood to gain if it had been a success by using footage of the race to promote the region.

"There is therefore a strong moral case that as the event resulted in terrible injuries to Miss Pitt and Miss Sanderson, the state should consider some form of financial compensation to assist with their ongoing treatment," the inquiry said.

It called for WA's attorney general to give "urgent consideration" to a lump sum compensation payment for Pitt, Sanderson, Hull and van der Merwe.

The inquiry did not make findings of legal liability and was not asked to examine whether the runners should be compensated by Racing the Planet.

Greg Walsh, lawyer for the four competitors, revealed earlier Thursday that he planned to sue Racing the Planet for more than Aus$10 million (US$10.5 million).

"They're a professional organiser which make huge profits out of organising these events around the world," he told the West Australian newspaper.

Walsh said he would be seeking "a figure well in excess of $10 million" in Pitt's case alone, with the former model and engineer already incurring $3 million in medical costs and facing another 10 rounds of surgery.

The September 2011 race featured 41 racers from 10 regions and countries including Taiwan, Malaysia and South Africa, with the majority from Australia.


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