Chinese officials to be punished for deaths of ultramarathon runners

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June 11 (UPI) — Dozens of Chinese officials are facing punishment or criminal charges for the deaths of 21 runners last month during an ultramarathon in Gansu Province.

Twenty-seven officials including members of the Chinese Communist Party face disciplinary punishment or have been fired, state-owned Xinhua news agency reported Friday.

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The Party’s secretary in the city of Baiyin and Baiyin Mayor Zhang Xuchen face punishment, and Zhang Wenling, the magistrate of Jingtai County, has been dismissed. A Zhang staff member may have died by suicide after the ultramarathon tragedy, the report said.

Zhang Xuchen apologized last month for the calamity.

“As the organizer of the event, we are full of guilt and remorse. We express deep condolences and sympathy to the families of the victims and the injured,” the Chinese mayor had said.

The 60-mile race in China’s Yellow River Stone Forest took place amid bad weather, including high winds and freezing rain, according to the BBC.

Some of the 172 runners went missing and local authorities deployed 1,200 rescuers, according to state media. Many runners who lost their way had hypothermia when rescuers found them, reports said.

Chinese authorities said Friday that the race on May 22 went ahead despite weather forecasts.

“The Baiyin ultramarathon was a public safety accident due to sudden changes in local weather,” investigators said.

“The emergency plan and safety guarantee measures for the event were not formulated in accordance with the prescribed standards, and the emergency rescue force was seriously underprepared.”

The deaths of runners, including a popular athlete, have angered the Chinese public. Online commenters blamed the Baiyin government for the lack of planning.

China’s General Administration of Sport said earlier this month the country will indefinitely suspend all high-risk sporting events, including trail running, desert trekking, wing suit flying and ultramarathons.

The incident in May comes after 25 ultramarathons were held in the country in 2019, according to the Chinese Athletic Association.

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