BEIJING: Twenty-one people running a mountain marathon cross-country race have died in northwestern China after hail, freezing rain and gale winds hit the high-altitude track, state media reported on Sunday (May 23).
The rescue headquarters quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency said the participants suffered from physical discomfort and the sudden drop in temperature.
Some went missing in the extreme weather around 1 pm Saturday, when the 100km race in the Yellow River Stone Forest tourist site in Baiyin city in Gansu province was halted.
Early on Sunday, rescuers found 21 dead, including the last of the five missing following an all-night search that involved more than 700 personnel. The operation was made difficult by low temperatures and the complex terrain and topography.
The runners were racing on an extremely narrow mountain path at high altitude, a reporter for state broadcaster CCTV said.
A total of 172 people had joined the race and 151 are confirmed to be safe. Some were treated for minor injuries and were stable, Xinhua said.
Baiyin Mayor Zhang Xuchen held a news conference later Sunday and profoundly apologized as the organizer of the event.
“We express deep condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and the injured,” the mayor said.
The victims included top domestic marathon runners Liang Jing and Huang Guanjun, local media reported, citing a friend of Huang's and Wei Pulong, Liang's coach. Liang had won multiple Chinese ultramarathons in recent years.
Huang, who was deaf-mute, won the men's hearing-impaired marathon at the 2019 National Paralympic Games held in Tianjin. Marathon organisers confirmed his death to a friend, who was cited in local media.
"MORE AND MORE UNBEARABLE"
State news agency Xinhua reported that some of the runners suffered from hypothermia, and Zhang said earlier that eight people were being treated for minor injuries in hospital and were in a stable condition.
Video footage broadcast on state media showed emergency rescue personnel in combat fatigues carrying flashlights as they climbed through the rocky terrain at night.
Some marathon participants, wrapped in heavy-duty blankets, were filmed being put on to a stretcher by rescuers.
"My whole body was soaked through, including my shoes and socks. I couldn't stand up straight because of the wind, I was very worried I'd be blown over. The cold became more and more unbearable," one survivor was quoted as saying in local media.
"While descending the mountain, I was already experiencing hypothermia symptoms."
Temperatures in the mountainous terrain dropped further overnight, Xinhua said, making search and rescue "more difficult".
Gansu, one of China's poorest regions, borders Mongolia to the north and Xinjiang to the west.
Deadly floods and landslides have hit the province in the past, with mudslides reportedly killing well over 1,000 people in one town in 2010.
It is also prone to earthquakes.
Yellow River Stone Forest is famous for its rugged mountain scenery marked by stone stalagmites and pillars, and is used as a location in many Chinese television shows and movies, according to the China Daily.
Its rock formations are believed to be four billion years old, the Daily said.