DUBAI // Two members of a successful Dubai powerboat racing team were killed in yesterday's Dubai Grand Prix, after their speeding vessel crashed violently halfway through the race. Dubai Victory Team's Mohammed al Mehairi, 34, an Emirati, and his co-pilot, the Frenchman Jean-Marc Sanchez, 48, a former world champion in the sport, were pronounced dead last night, the event's host, Dubai International Marine Club, said in a statement.
The race was the final round of the Class 1 World Powerboat Championship. The two pilots were, as of yesterday, the reigning European champions and ranked second in world standings. "Safety personnel attended both pilots at the scene," the DIMC statement said. "They were subsequently airlifted to a local hospital, where all efforts to resuscitate them were in vain." The Victory Team said it was in mourning after the loss of the popular pilots.
Participants said the accident occurred about 3.45pm, minutes after the race's start off Jumeirah Beach Residence's shorefront residential complex. Their speeding, 12.67 metre powerboat, Victory 1, was observed losing control and flying into the air during their sixth lap. It then flipped over, crashing down on its back side. After some delay, rescue boats, scuba divers and helicopters came to their assistance.
"They hit the wave, and the front of the boat went front-up into the air," said Torgeir Jakobsen, from Norway, a mechanic for team Maritimo. "They went up and up, and then flipped backwards." He said the weather conditions, wind and big swells, were "normal" in offshore racing. "I think they just had really bad luck." But several participants and spectators were critical of rescue efforts, saying that the race should have been halted sooner.
On its website, Victory Team said that as "a mark of respect, event organisers have cancelled all remaining activities for [today]". In 1995 another driver for the Victory team, Hamed Buhaleeba, died when his catamaran somersaulted and landed upside down during the World Championships at Cowes, in England. Mr Buhaleeba, who had won 25 powerboating titles in five years, was one of the UAE's most successful sportsmen. Formula One powerboats can travel at speeds up to 240 km per hour. Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, is chairman of the Victory Team.