The traditional motorsport curtain-raiser (at least for me), the Paris-Dakar Rally, has sadly claimed its first life, with French motorcyclist Pascal Terry being found dead three days after failing to complete the rally's first stage.
The Paris-Dakar Rally is perhaps the most dangerous motorsport event, and although fatal accidents or related deaths—such as Terry's—occur most years, the event still attracts huge entry, with the bike class alone attracting over 200 riders to compete alongside the car, truck, and quad classes.
It is a labour of love for many of the privateers (who unfortunately are the most common victims of the race), with several returning year after year, fully aware they stand little or no chance of winning in the face of professional riders and drivers with factory support and enormous team of mechanics.
However, while deaths are common there is something different about Terry's, something which could do more harm to the race than any other in its history. The fact that it took search teams three days to find him—despite statements from the organisers saying he was in an isolated area several miles away from his abandoned bike—forces questions to be asked about the organisation, especially if investigations reveal that a faster response finding Terry could have saved his life.
Could this partly be due to the change of location and setting for the 2009 edition, after security threats in the race's traditional North African home forced the cancelation of the 2008 race and the relocation to the South American countries of Argentina and Chile? Could the lack of familiarity with the area both on the part of the organisers and competitors be to blame?
I have to say I hope not, as such a fault could put an event already under safety pressure further towards the end of it's competitive life.
On the same stage as Terry's accident, the British pairing of Paul Green and Matthew Harrison, competing in the car class, suffered an accident that left them both in critical condition. While both are said to be stable, neither have been "moved," presumably owing to suspected spinal injuries as of yesterday.
More on these sad stories and the results of the race stages can be found at the race's official site.
UPDATE: The Dakar's European broadcasters, Eurosport, who are travelling with the rally camp have reported additional information. Each competitor is given an emergency beacon so they can be located should the abandon on the stage. Terry's beacon was activated and was found with him 15 metres (not miles) from his bike. However, the signal from the beacon goes not to the race's marshalls in Argentina, but to the ASO headquarters in France. It emerges that it took close to a day for news of the signal to be relayed to South America.
Eurosport also report that some days after Terry's disappearence there was news that he had infact been seen in the camp. This news led to the initial search being called off, organisers believing Terry was safe and well.