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One runner dead and others injured at French ultra

Participants in France's Ultra-Trail du Haut-Giffre were evacuated mid-race, after at least four runners fell on steep, slippery slopes

mountain rescue unsplash/kevin schmid Photo by: Unsplash/Kevin Schmid

Tragedy struck at France’s Ultra-Trail du Haut-Giffre (UTHG) early on Saturday, when at least four runners fell on the steep, slippery slopes during the race. Amid harsh weather conditions in the 96K race, one participant in his 50s reportedly succumbed to cardiorespiratory arrest, while three others were hospitalized with severe injuries, as reported by CNN.

The race organizers announced the news on their social media channels, stating, “It is with great sadness that we announce that UTHG has just learned of a tragic event with the accidental death of a racer. The first responders at the scene intervened immediately and provided first aid while awaiting his evacuation. All our thoughts are with the victim’s family and relatives.” The organizers then cancelled the rest of the event to ensure participant safety.

The event takes place over three days in the eastern French area of Haute Savoie, in the French Alps, and was set to run from June 14 to 16. Organizers had postponed the start of the run due to “difficult weather conditions” earlier on Saturday, with mountain weather forecasts warning of intense meteorological conditions for the northern French Alps early Saturday morning, around the time the incident occurred.

Details from the scene

A local public prosecutor, Karline Bouisset, provided further information gleaned from local media source BMFTV, stating that the four runners fell “in a mountainous area made slippery by the weather.” Bouisset said that the deceased was a man in his 50s who likely suffered a cardiac arrest. She also reported that two men, one in his 50s and one in his 30s, sustained serious injuries, while a woman suffered less severe injuries. Rescue operations were intensive, involving 73 local firefighters and the Gendarmerie de Haute Montagne (PGHM) mountain rescue service from Chamonix.

The incidents began around 4:35 a.m. local time, with rescue calls prompted by falls in a mountainous area rendered treacherous by the weather. Participants on social media shared that around 3 a.m., the weather had deteriorated significantly, turning trails into torrents of water and making them dangerously slippery. Many runners chose to stop at aid stations, and others received notifications from the race organizers about the event’s halt and the need for evacuation.

Reflection and safety

It’s not clear how many runners in total may have been injured during the bad weather. According to a statement from race organizers early on Saturday, all participants were expected to have been evacuated by Saturday afternoon.

As the investigation continues, the ultra-running community mourns the loss of a fellow runner and hopes for the speedy recovery of the injured. The UTHG organizers, participants, and the broader community will hope to improve safety measures and protocols for future races.

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