21 Runners Killed as Extreme Weather Descends on Mountains During Ultra Marathon

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Rescuers on the scene. Credit: Reuters

Twenty-one runners were killed in China on Saturday when extreme weather hit during their ultra-marathon in the mountainous section of the 62-mile (100km) race.

Hail, freezing rain, and high winds bombarded runners during the high-altitude section of the race held in the scenic Yellow River Stone Forest near Baiyin city in northwestern Gansu province. Many were not dressed for such weather, wearing just vests and shorts.

“In a short period of time, hailstones and ice rain suddenly fell in the local area, and there were strong winds. The temperature sharply dropped.”

– Baiyin city mayor Zhang Xuchen

Forecasts before the race had indicated there would be some wind and rain, but nothing as extreme as what occurred.

The race was stopped when 172 runners went missing, and a huge rescue operation involving 1,200 rescuers began.

The incident happened just three hours after the 9 am start, between miles twelve and twenty, on a narrow mountain path at 9,800-feet. Many of the stranded runners became lost as visibility dropped, and suffered from hypothermia. One runner said the freezing rain felt like ‘bullets hitting the face’ and the exposed, steep nature of the mountain left no places to hide or take shelter. Some of the runners died after falling off the path into deep mountain crevices.

Among the victims were two of China’s elite long-distance runners.

The regional government has been heavily criticized for the lack of contingency planning, and officials have apologized.

Baiyin city, China

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