BEIJING (AP) — Twenty-one people
were killed in a mountain ultramarathon
in northwestern China
on Sunday after hail, freezing rain, and gale-force winds hit the high-altitude race, according to state media.
Rescuers were able to confirm that 151 people were safe, out of a total of 172 participants, after an all-night rescue operation in freezing temperatures involving more than 700 personnel, according to the official Xinhua News
Agency, which stated that the runners suffered from physical discomfort and the sudden drop in temperature.
The 100-kilometer (60-mile) race took place Saturday in the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin city, Gansu province, on an extremely narrow mountain path at an altitude of 2,000-3,000 meters (6,500-9,800 feet).
One of the victims was a well-known runner named Liang Jing, who had won a 100-kilometer (62-mile) race in Ningbo, according to the Paper, a state-backed newspaper based in Shanghai.
According to Beijing News, a paper owned by the Beijing city government, a woman who worked for the race organizer, Gansu Shengjing Sports
Culture Development Co., there were no extreme weather
predictions for the day of the race.
However, the local branch of the National Early Warning Information Center in Baiyin City had issued a hail and strong wind warning for the previous three days.
According to an account posted online by a race participant who quit and managed to make his way to safety, the race also followed a relatively well-established course, having been held four times.
The weather, however, caught them off guard, and on the morning of the race Saturday, he could already tell something was off: the runners were not dressed for winter-like conditions, with many wearing short-sleeved tops.
“I ran 2 kilometers before the starting gun
fired to warm up... but the troublesome thing was, after running these 2 kilometers, my body
still hadn’t heated up,” the competitor said in a first-person account that has been viewed over 100,000 times on his WeChat account “Wandering about the South.”
He later told the Paper that the weather forecast the day before the race did not accurately predict the extreme weather they encountered.
The most difficult section, from kilometer 24 (mile 15) to kilometer 36 (mile 22), climbed 1,000 meters (3,280 feet), and he described the path as "just a mix of stones and sand," with his fingers becoming numb from the cold.
He said he was able to make it to safety and met a rescue crew when he finally decided to turn back, but he did not respond to a comment request left on his social media
According to a reporter for state broadcaster CCTV, some runners further along the course had fallen off the trail into deep mountain crevices; it was unclear how many of them survived.
Rescuers in winter coats searched with flashlights along steep hills and narrow paths in the pitch-dark night, according to video footage. Search operations were completed by noon Sunday, according to rescuers.
Some on social media wondered what, if any, emergency preparations the race organizers had made, and the race organizer did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
Later that day, Baiyin City Mayor Zhang Xuchen apologized profusely as the event's organizer, and the government promised an exhaustive investigation
“We extend our heartfelt condolences and sympathy to the families of the deceased and injured,” said the mayor.
This article was contributed to by Associated Press writer
Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan, and news researcher Henry Hou in Beijing.