Burns Victim

Reporter: Clare Brady

Kate Sanderson, 35, super fit and an experienced ultra-marathon runner.

Now she has 55 per cent burns to her body. Part of her left foot has been amputated and after six months in hospital and enduring 15 skin grafts she has finally be allowed to go home.

As she told the Herald Sun this 100 kilometre foot race in Western Australia's outback has ruined her life.

As she told the Herald Sun, a 100 kilometre foot race in Western Australia's outback has ruined her life. Kate was competing in one of 'Racing the Planets' gruelling marathons -- this one was through the unforgiving terrain of the Kimberley Region.

The runners knew about the heat but weren't told what lay ahead -- dormant and waiting was a fire that had been smouldering for days. "It was horrendous, scariest time of my life and to hear the girls screaming and there was nothing we could do", said marathon runner, Michael Hull.

Marathon runners like Michael are made tough but nothing trained them when six runners, including Kate, were in a gorge, winds whipped up and the fire trapping them in a fight for their lives. "We were trying to find where the roads were. No one had mobile phones because we knew there was no coverage. You know, we had a whistle. There was no shade, so we were getting sunburnt on the burns", Kate said.

In excruciating heat they waited for four hours for help to arrive. "Any burn has a huge impact on all body systems: even a small burn will affect your nerves, your liver, your heart, your lungs, your kidneys. I know if you're burnt on your arm, your nerves are affected on the other side so if you escalate that to 55% body surface area, that is a huge insult to the area and takes a significant recovery", said burns expert and plastic surgeon, Dr Fiona Woods.

After the Bali bombing, Fiona Wood's work with burns victims is well known. "When you're burnt you are no longer water proof, this beautiful casing skin is interrupted and so you're a leaky sieve, you lose a lot of fluid and circulation and so you can't deliver oxygen to everywhere in the body as well as the skin", Dr Woods.

Naturally Kate Sanderson wants answers, answers about why they weren't warned about the fire.

Now the Western Australian Government has agreed "in principle" to hold a Parliamentary Committee into that race. Phil Gleeson from Maurice Blackburn Lawyers said, "If there is a finding of fault or a want of responsibility of either the State Government or the organiser's part, I think they would deserve compensation".

Turia Pitt was also trapped by the flames and has burns to most of her body. Callum Stowell competed in the race that hot September day. He'll now compete in an ultra-marathon in New Zealand next month -- each step he'll raise money for Kate and Turi to aide their recovery.

Callum Stowell's run:

I have set up a dedicated account for the girls, and kicked things off by donating $1000.00 to the cause. Please give generously. These girls have a long road ahead of them. It has been 6 Months since the race and both are not expected to return to work within the next 2 years.

Account Name : Kate and Turia Donations

BSB : 086 - 066

Account # : 12 - 796 - 4034

I understand if donators want to remain anonymous but I do urge you to email me and to let me know you have donated. I would love to be able to provide the girls with a card and a list of names of the people that have donated.

Email: callum.stowell@gmail.com

 

STATEMENT FROM RACE ORGANISERS:

1. What information did Racing The Planet have regarding bushfires in the area prior to the start of the race?

RacingThePlanet Events Limited (RacingThePlanet) was not warned of the risk that fires pose to people in the Kimberley area at that time of the year by anyone despite engaging, prior to the Kimberley Ultramarathon, with a number of local people, owners of the land which the Kimberley Ultramarathon course passed over and local government authorities.

RacingThePlanet understands that the fire likely started somewhere in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community (about 12.5 km to the southeast of the Tier Range incident site) on 28 or 29 August 2011. It is not clear how the fire started. This understanding of where the fire started is based on sentinel hotspot data provided by the Northern Australian Fire Information website (www.firenorth.org.au), and information released by the Fire and Emergency Services Authority of Western Australia and the Western Australian Department of Environment and Conservation under the Freedom of Information Act.

RacingThePlanet was not notified about the fire which started somewhere in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011 by anyone, including any local people, landowners, occupiers of the land or government authorities.

RacingThePlanet was monitoring areas on and around the course of the Kimberley Ultramarathon in the days leading up to the race on 2 September 2011 and did not see the fire which started in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011. As such, RacingThePlanet Events Limited was not aware of the fire that started in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011 in the days leading up to the race on 2 September 2011.

It is also worth noting that Bureau of Meteorology records indicate that fire weather forecasts for Kununurra predicted decreasing levels of fire danger between 28 August and 2 September 2011, with the Grassland Fire Danger Rating falling from 'High' on 28 August 2011 to 'Low - Moderate' on 2 September 2011 - which is the lowest fire danger rating scale.

2. Were any details about fire in the area given to participants prior to the race?

As stated above, RacingThePlanet was not warned of the risk that fires pose to people in the Kimberley area at that time of the year by anyone despite engaging, prior to the Kimberley Ultramarathon, with a number of local people, owners of the land which the Kimberley Ultramarathon course passed over and local government authorities.

3. Why did it take four hours to rescue the participants?

When RacingThePlanet became aware that a fire had passed onto the course of the Kimberley Ultramarathon, entered the Tier Range gorge, and potentially trapped race participants, it took immediate steps to contact Emergency Services by satellite phone on 000 at 14:02:54. After a number of calls to Emergency Services, and sometime later, an ambulance was dispatched by Emergency Services to assist. For reasons unknown to RacingThePlanet fire services were not dispatched by Emergency Services, and police services from Wyndham only arrived when the rescue operations were almost complete.

While waiting for the assistance of Emergency Services, RacingThePlanet took all steps it could to assist and evacuate the injured competitors. RacingThePlanet called the Heliworks helicopter that was in the area filming the event - and had been designated the first responder in case of emergency - which flew over the Tier Range gorge to assess the situation and reported likely serious injuries to two competitors. This helicopter then picked up a RacingThePlanet doctor who, because the helicopter was unable to land where the competitors were because of the difficult terrain, jumped to the ledge where the two injured competitors were located (the RacingThePlanet medical doctor was the first medic on location). RacingThePlanet called a second helicopter in from Heliworks, and the pilot, Paul Cripps, was able to pick up two of the injured competitors, Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson. They were flown to and checked into the Kununurra Hospital at 5.46 pm.

4. How was it that participants found themselves caught in the bushfire?

As stated in answer to question 1, RacingThePlanet was not notified about the fire which started somewhere in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011 by anyone, including any local people, landowners, occupiers of the land or government authorities. RacingThePlanet was monitoring areas on and around the course of the Kimberley Ultramarathon in the days leading up to the race on 2 September 2011 and did not see the fire which started in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011. As such, RacingThePlanet Events Limited was not aware of the fire that started in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011 in the days leading up to the race on 2 September 2011.

As stated in answer to question 3, when RacingThePlanet became aware that a fire had passed onto the course of the Kimberley Ultramarathon, entered the Tier Range gorge, and potentially trapped race participants, it took immediate steps to contact Emergency Services by satellite phone on 000 at 14:02:54. After a number of calls to Emergency Services, and sometime later, an ambulance was dispatched by Emergency Services to assist. For reasons unknown to RacingThePlanet fire services were not dispatched by Emergency Services, and police services from Wyndham only arrived when the rescue operations were almost complete.

While waiting for the assistance of Emergency Services, RacingThePlanet took all steps it could to assist and evacuate the injured competitors. RacingThePlanet called the Heliworks helicopter that was in the area filming the event - and had been designated the first responder in case of emergency - which flew over the Tier Range gorge to assess the situation and reported likely serious injuries to two competitors. This helicopter then picked up a RacingThePlanet doctor who, because the helicopter was unable to land where the competitors were because of the difficult terrain, jumped to the ledge where the two injured competitors were located (the RacingThePlanet medical doctor was the first medic on location). RacingThePlanet called a second helicopter in from Heliworks, and the pilot, Paul Cripps, was able to pick up two of the injured competitors, Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson. They were flown to and checked into the Kununurra Hospital at 5.46 pm.

It is disappointing that the investigation conducted by FESA was unable to determine the cause of the fire which started somewhere in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011.

RacingThePlanet is also disappointed and deeply concerned that despite the fact that the fire started on 29 August in and around an area that is heavily visited by tourists, it appears that it had not been reported to authorities, nor does it appear that FESA was aware of the fire or monitoring or controlling it.

If FESA or other government authorities were aware of the fire, this is particularly disturbing to RacingThePlanet given that RacingThePlanet had notified the authorities listed below of the event, there were other tourists in the area and neither FESA or any of the other government authorities in the below list informed RacingThePlanet of the fire or the risk of fire in the Kimberley area generally - including any risk they pose to people:

FESA in Kununurra

Kununurra Police

Perth Police Department

DEC in Kununurra

Heliworks

Kununurra Visitor Centre

Kununurra Hospital

The Shire President

WA Eventscorp

WA Tourism

Department of Health (WA) in Perth who in turn notified the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Manager State Ambulance Officer

The owners of the land which the course went through

5. Is Racing The Planet responsible?

No. RacingThePlanet denies that it is responsible for the injuries that occurred on 2 September 2011.

6. Will Racing The Planet compensate victims?

As stated in answer to question 5, RacingThePlanet denies that it is responsible for the injuries that occurred on 2 September 2011.

7. What lessons have Racing The Planet taken away from this tragedy?

As stated in answer to question 1:

RacingThePlanet was not warned of the risk that fires pose to people in the Kimberley area at that time of the year by anyone despite engaging, prior to the Kimberley Ultramarathon, with a number of local people, owners of the land which the Kimberley Ultramarathon course passed over and local government authorities.

RacingThePlanet was not notified about the fire which started somewhere in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011 by anyone, including any local people, landowners, occupiers of the land or government authorities. RacingThePlanet was monitoring areas on and around the course of the Kimberley Ultramarathon in the days leading up to the race on 2 September 2011 and did not see the fire which started in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011. As such, RacingThePlanet Events Limited was not aware of the fire that started in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011 in the days leading up to the race on 2 September 2011.

As stated in answer to question 4, , it is disappointing that the investigation conducted by FESA was unable to determine the cause of the fire which started somewhere in the vicinity of the Wuggubun Community on 28 or 29 August 2011.

RacingThePlanet is also disappointed and deeply concerned that despite the fact that the fire started on 29 August in and around an area that is heavily visited by tourists, it appears that it had not been reported to authorities, nor does it appear that FESA was aware of the fire or monitoring or controlling it.

If FESA or other government authorities were aware of the fire, this is particularly disturbing to RacingThePlanet given that RacingThePlanet had notified the authorities listed below of the event, there were other tourists in the area and neither FESA or any of the other government authorities in the below list informed RacingThePlanet of the fire or the risk of fire in the Kimberley area generally - including any risk they pose to people:

FESA in Kununurra

Kununurra Police

Perth Police Department

DEC in Kununurra

Heliworks

Kununurra Visitor Centre

Kununurra Hospital

The Shire President

WA Eventscorp

WA Tourism

Department of Health (WA) in Perth who in turn notified the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Manager State Ambulance Officer

The owners of the land which the course went through

As set out in answer to question 3 and 4, when RacingThePlanet became aware that a fire had passed onto the course of the Kimberley Ultramarathon, entered the Tier Range gorge, and potentially trapped race participants, it took immediate steps to contact Emergency Services by satellite phone on 000 at 14:02:54. After a number of calls to Emergency Services, and sometime later, an ambulance was dispatched by Emergency Services to assist. For reasons unknown to RacingThePlanet fire services were not dispatched by Emergency Services, and police services from Wyndham only arrived when the rescue operations were almost complete.

While waiting for the assistance of Emergency Services, RacingThePlanet took all steps it could to assist and evacuate the injured competitors. RacingThePlanet called the Heliworks helicopter that was in the area filming the event - and had been designated the first responder in case of emergency - which flew over the Tier Range gorge to assess the situation and reported likely serious injuries to two competitors. This helicopter then picked up a RacingThePlanet doctor who, because the helicopter was unable to land where the competitors were because of the difficult terrain, jumped to the ledge where the two injured competitors were located (the RacingThePlanet medical doctor was the first medic on location). RacingThePlanet called a second helicopter in from Heliworks, and the pilot, Paul Cripps, was able to pick up two of the injured competitors, Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson. They were flown to and checked into the Kununurra Hospital at 5.46 pm.

Further background material about RacingThePlanet and the Kimberley Ultramarathon

RacingThePlanet is one of the most highly regarded event organisers in the world. RacingThePlanet was established in 2002 and has subsequently organised 32 ultramarathon events in remote locations around the world. RacingThePlanet is welcomed, encouraged and assisted by all the governments in the locations where its races are held.

Each year, the 4 Deserts series of 7-day, 250 kilometre footraces takes place in the Gobi Desert in China, the Atacama Desert in Chile, and the Sahara Desert in Egypt, with a race in Antarctica every two years. In addition, RacingThePlanet holds a "roving race" each year in a different location. Previous locations included Vietnam, Namibia and Nepal, with events planned for Jordan and Iceland in 2012 and 2013 respectively. In 2010, the roving race was held in the Kimberley in Australia; approximately 200 participants from nearly 40 countries participated. In total some 4,000 people have participated in RacingThePlanet events to date.

Prior to each event RacingThePlanet staff spend a significant amount of time working with local experts at the race location planning and preparing for the event. This includes planning the course, the logistics, risk management and safety procedures for the race. On the day of each race RacingThePlanet ensures that a team of staff and medical doctors are on the course to run the event and provide medical and logistical support to competitors; appropriate communications equipment and protocols; vehicles for logistical support; and an evacuation plan in case there is an emergency.

Concept of the Kimberley Ultramarathon Event

In 2010 RacingThePlanet initiated a 100 kilometre format in the Taklamakan Desert in China. Given the enthusiastic response to the 2010 Kimberley race, RacingThePlanet decided to hold a 100 kilometre nonstop endurance race in the Kimberley in 2011. The concept was to establish this 100 kilometre race as a regular annual event with the hope that management could be passed to a local team while RacingThePlanet used its international connections to attract international media coverage and international visitors to the Kimberley.

It has always been part of the RacingThePlanet ethos to support the local communities where its races are held. RacingThePlanet has sponsored, for instance, Operation Smile missions in Kashgar, China, Cairo, Egypt and Lao Cai, Vietnam and has donated equipment to local schools. During the 2010 event in the Kimberley, RacingThePlanet engaged with the students at the local Dawul School (an Aboriginal school in Doon Doon) providing running shoes, ski caps and flip videos and encouraging students to connect with international participants and learn about other countries by following the races.

While the 2010 Kimberley event was entirely funded by RacingThePlanet, WA Tourism agreed to sponsor the 2011 event by funding a film and providing support to journalists for the purpose of promoting the Kimberley.

Planning the Event

Prior to the 2010 event, international staff from RacingThePlanet spent many weeks in the Kimberley on several visits to plan the course, the logistics and the safety procedures for the race. RacingThePlanet worked with John Storey, a local farmer, who had been referred to RacingThePlanet by WA Eventscorp, and a local logistics organiser. During the race, in addition to RacingThePlanet's international staff and volunteers, a number of local Kununurra residents participated as volunteers, helping with the course and checkpoints .

The experience of the 2010 race was a solid foundation for planning the 100 kilometre race in 2011. RacingThePlanet used the same course director and the same medical director, and the course itself was significantly based on the 2010 course. In particular, the route through the Tier Gorge, where competitors were injured, was the same course in reverse that was used in the 2010 race.

The 2011 course was specifically designed to ensure that no participants would be in any off-road section during the dark. Approximately 90 percent of the course was therefore on road or 4x4 dirt tracks.

Staffing of the event included the following:

RacingThePlanet events team (3 in Australia plus 1 on standby in Hong Kong)

Course Director

A doctor who was the Medical Director plus 3 other doctors

9 international volunteers (all English-speaking)

5 volunteers from the Kununurra area

Approvals and Notifications

Prior to the event, RacingThePlanet notified a wide range of local authorities and received the necessary approvals. The following bodies were notified prior to the event:

FESA in Kununurra

Kununurra Police

Perth Police Department

DEC in Kununurra

Heliworks

Kununurra Visitor Centre

Kununurra Hospital

The Shire President

WA Eventscorp

WA Tourism

Department of Health (WA) in Perth who in turn notified the Royal Flying Doctor Service and the Manager State Ambulance Officer

The owners of the land which the course went through

At no stage did any Government body or individual suggest that the grass fires which are common in the Kimberley could pose any risk. In fact, there was another locally organised adventure race staged in the Kimberley the following month.

Risk Management and Safety

A. Medical

RacingThePlanet brought in four members of its international medical team who had all worked at previous RacingThePlanet events and were trained in wilderness medicine. This team included a Canadian doctor based in Townsville, Queensland, who was trained in helicopter rescue. These medical personnel were given special approval by WA Health.

With just 40 participants in the race, RacingThePlanet had 1 medical doctor for each 10 participants.

In addition, RacingThePlanet contracted Medex, to provide a Medical Contingency Plan and to advise on appropriate hospitalisation procedures in the event of an injury.

B. Communications

Communications equipment RacingThePlanet used during the Kimberley Ultramarathon was: (a) mobile phones and blackberries for areas close to Kununurra, (b) short wave radios for close communication around checkpoints, and (c) satellite phones and BGANs (satellite phones and remote broadband internet) for long distance communication and emergency calls. In addition, RacingThePlanet had backup power supplies for all communications equipment. All communications equipment was tested, and indeed it was the satellite phones that were used to make the emergency calls during the fire.

C. Evacuation Procedures

As part of WA Eventscorp's sponsorship, a helicopter was chartered from Heliworks to provide transport for the media team. It was agreed with Heliworks prior to the race that this helicopter was designated as the first responder in the case of any emergency. As mentioned previously, 90 percent of the course was accessible by 4x4 vehicle and both Kununurra Hospital and the Royal Flying Doctors' Service had been advised of the race in advance.