Hours into the event on Saturday

Twenty-one people, including two of China’s top marathon athletes, died after freezing rain and high winds struck a 62-mile mountain race in northwestern China, local officials said on Sunday.

Liang Jing, 31, an ultramarathon champion, and Huang Guanjun, the winner of the men’s marathon for hearing-impaired runners at China’s 2019 National Paralympic Games, were among those found dead, according to state news media.

The deaths prompted outrage in China, with online commentators questioning the preparedness of the local government that organized the race, held at Yellow River Stone Forest Park in Gansu Province.

Hours into the event on Saturday, the weather suddenly deteriorated as the runners were climbing 6,500 feet above sea level to the 12-mile mark, according to Zhang Xuchen, the mayor of the nearby city of Baiyin, who fired the starting pistol. Runners dressed in shorts and T-shirts were suddenly facing freezing conditions, and rain turned to hail. Some passed out from the cold.

“In a short period of time, hailstones and freezing rain fell in the area, and there were strong winds,” Mr. Zhang said. “The temperature dropped sharply.”

Some of the participants sent a video message asking for help, and the authorities sent a rescue team that assisted 18 of the athletes, Mr. Zhang said. The race was called off by 2 p.m. on Saturday.

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By evening, officials had started a huge rescue effort involving 1,200 people in search and rescue teams, along with thermal imaging drones and other equipment, state media reported. In video footage from China’s state broadcaster, rescuers could be seen fanning out into the dark with flashlights, some in combat fatigues, others in blue or orange jumpsuits with helmets.

Liang Jing, an ultramarathon champion, was among the dead.
Liang Jing, an ultramarathon champion, was among the dead.
Credit…Jean-Pierre Clatot/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The race, which began at a tourist site near the Yellow River and followed a route through canyons with huge stone stalagmites, had been organized by the local government for the past fo   ur years. It was seen as a way to promote tourism in the area, which is in one of China’s poorest provinces.

This year, 172 people participated in the 62-mile race, while hundreds of others were registered to run in shorter events. Officials said 151 race participants were confirmed to be safe, and that one last missing runner was found dead on Sunday morning. Eight people were being treated at a hospital.

Mr. Zhang said that the rescue efforts had been complicated by a landslide after the rain. The region is prone to mudslides and floods.

By Sunday, discussion online in China focused on the apparent failure to prepare for the possibility of extreme weather. Some questioned whether organizers had paid enough attention to the weather forecast.

The news that two elite runners were among the dead amplified the public anger. The state-owned Beijing News reported the death of Mr. Liang, who has won several ultramarathons in China in recent years. Two runners who helped with the rescue effort confirmed the death of Mr. Huang, according to the state-owned Red Star News.

Steve Brammar, the race director for the Hong Kong 100 ultramarathon, said on Sunday that Mr. Liang was among the best ultra-endurance athletes in the world.

“We will miss his long, thoughtful, honest answers to questions at the press conferences and his powerful, brave running style,” Mr. Brammar said in a message posted on Facebook. Mr. Liang ran in the Hong Kong race last year.

“We will always remember him at the finish line of the 2020 event, holding his baby and hugging his wife,” Mr. Brammar said.

The accident happened on a service transporting passengers from the resort town of Stresa up the nearby Mottarone mountain in the region of Piedmont.

An image posted on social media by emergency services showed the wreckage of the car lying in a wooded area.

Officials say two children, aged five and nine, were taken from the scene by helicopter to a Turin hospital.

They are the only survivors of 11 passengers who had been on board when the cable car crashed, a spokesman for Italy’s alpine rescue service confirmed to the Reuters news agency.

Officials said a call to emergency services came just after 12:00 local time (11:00 BST) on Sunday.

Walter Milan, another alpine rescue spokesman, told RaiNews24 television that the cable car was left “crumpled” after falling from a high height.

The cause of the incident remains unclear, but local reports suggest the cable carrying it may have failed about 300m (984ft) from the top of the mountain.

Social media image showing wreckage of cable car posted by emergency services
image captionEmergency services shared an image of the deadly crash on Sunday
Police and other rescuers photographed at the scene of the wreckage
image captionPolice were among emergency service rescuers working at the scene
The website for the Stresa-Alpine-Mottarone cable car said it usually takes 20 minutes to transport passengers 1,491m above sea level.

Mottarone is situated between Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, offering scenic views of the region for tourists.

The Gansu Province government has set up a team to investigate the deaths, according to state news media.

Mr. Zhang apologized at a televised news conference on Sunday.

“As the event organizer, we feel deeply guilty,” Mr. Zhang said. “We express our sorrow for the victims and our deep condolences to the families of the victims and the injured.”–165685394/–165685587/–165685394/–165685587/

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