A woman who was standing next to a man struck and killed by a vehicle competing in the Finke Desert Race has said she thought spectators were standing “too close” to vehicles.
- Geoff Common and Christine Zander were standing near the man who died in an off-road race accident yesterday
- Ms Zander said she thought spectators were standing “too close” to the track
- An expert says the number and spread of spectators could have posed safety challenges
Onlookers fled to safety after a race truck left the off-road track and drove towards a small crowd of spectators about 35 kilometres from the finish line in Alice Springs on Monday morning.
A man in his 60s was struck by the vehicle and died upon impact.
Christine Zander said she had been standing about a metre away from him in the moments before his death.
“I would’ve been the last person to speak to him,” Ms Zander said.
“It was so freaky. It was just there, up in the air, and then he was gone.”
Witnesses have described watching the truck crest a sand dune but lose control upon landing, before the vehicle veered into the onlookers.
Christine’s partner, Geoff, also witnessed the incident and said the car landed “awkwardly” and the driver was unable to correct it.
Ms Zander, who said she only avoided being struck because her partner pulled her out of the way.
She also said she believed spectators were standing too close to the vehicles navigating the track.
“We were too close. Too close to that track. That’s what I feel.”
Another witness, Kerry Turley, yesterday told the ABC said he was concerned that some spectators were moving too close to the track.
A man in his 50s who was seriously injured during the incident is expected to be flown to Royal Adelaide Hospital today.
The navigator of the vehicle, a woman in her 50s, was treated for minor injuries in Alice Springs.
Major Crash Detectives undertook an examination of the site on Monday, while governing body Motorsport Australia said it would begin its own investigation in partnership with event organisers.
Information published on the Finke Desert Race website includes an infographic detailing unsafe areas for spectators to stand, and written warnings to “always stand back from the track and NEVER on the outside of corners”.
Garry Connelly, a former rally driver who chairs the Australian Institute for Motor Sport Safety, said most motorsport events had spectator safety plans.
“Most events would have a safety plan, which would document ways to make sure that spectators are not standing in the wrong place,” he said.
“In fact, there are some Motorsport Australia rally guidelines, which are very strict on where spectators can stand.
“I think it’s a matter of now looking at whether they are enforced for an event like the Finke, which is run under the off-road category, not the rally category.
“The Motorsport Australia investigation will look into why this happened, but more importantly, to look at what they can do in future to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
‘A lot of spectators to control’
Mr Connelly, who is also leading a tribunal looking at the deaths of three competitors during the Targa Tasmania rally in April, said the crash was both tragic and surprising given Australia has done “a pretty reasonable job” with spectator safety at Australian off-road events.
He said the unique set-up of the Finke – which allows spectators to camp anywhere along the 230km desert track, rather than having designated spectating and camping sites – could potentially pose safety challenges.
“I see that there are some challenges because it does appear to have a lot of access to the members of the public,” he said.
“I did read in the organisers’ documentation that they expect somewhere between 10 and 15,000 spectators.
“So that’s a lot of spectators to control.
“I’m absolutely certain Motorsport Australia will conduct a very thorough investigation and will come up with suitable recommendations.”
In a statement, Motorsport Australia yesterday said it was providing ongoing support and assistance to people involved in the event, including providing counselling.
The organisers of the Finke Desert Race have been contacted for comment.