x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Powerboat's safety canopy investigated

The investigation into a deadly crash at the World Powerboat Championships will focus on the structure of the craft.

Competitors and crews gathered at sea yesterday to remember the two racers killed in Friday's crash.
Competitors and crews gathered at sea yesterday to remember the two racers killed in Friday's crash.

DUBAI // An investigation into the horrific crash that killed two teammates at the World Powerboat Championships will focus on the canopy structure that was designed to protect the cockpit, organisers of the event said yesterday. Mohammed al Mehairi, 34, an Emirati, and Jean-Marc Sanchez, 48, a Frenchman, died on Friday after their powerful twin-engined craft flipped and crashed violently upside-down. The race was cancelled and all events were stalled after the accident.

The impact of the crash destroyed the canopy that was meant to protect the drivers, said Sid Bensalah, the general manager of Dubai International Marine Club, the event organiser. Even though the boat was travelling at 209kph, such damage was unusual, he said. "We have seen worse accidents during our six years of operation. Even if the boat is destroyed into pieces, the cockpit remains safe. "We are taking the responsibility to investigate on the weakest point of the canopy structure. We will deploy professionals to improve the safety of the canopy."

The results of the investigation will be handed over to the World Professional Powerboating Association for study, he said. Yesterday, participating teams and race officials gathered at the scene of the crash and performed an honour lap in memory of the men. Nearly two dozen powerboats and rescue craft circled the area. The boaters waved a chequered flag and tossed rose petals into the sea. Family, friends and colleagues of the two drivers gathered at the bay to watch.

Mr Bensalah said that on race day, the race management team went through the "normal procedures" and safety requirements. He dismissed claims that rescue units took too long to reach the wreckage. "There was absolutely no delay and we can prove this," he said. "The video recordings show the rescue teams reached the boat in one minute and 20 seconds." The boat was upside-down when the rescue teams arrived. The two drivers had been thrown from the boat and the cockpit was destroyed.

"No one can say how bad the situation is inside the cockpit when you see it from the outside," he said. "What happened this time has never happened before." Although the day was overcast and rainy, Mr Bensalah said racing conditions were considered normal. The Dubai marine club conducts 120 watersport events every year, he said, and maintained high standards in management and safety operations. He said the decision on whether a race should be stopped because of the weather was taken by experts.

The two drivers had lived in Dubai for decades and belonged to the Dubai-based Victory Team. Management of the team would not comment yesterday, but a statement on the team's website said members' thoughts were with the men's families. The statement expressed thanks for messages of condolence received from fans. Mr al Mehairi was laid to rest at the Al Quos cemetery yesterday. Hundreds of people, including Victory Team staff and race organisers, were present.

Mr Sanchez's family was still deciding whether to hold his funeral in Dubai, marine club officials said. There was no question, Mr Bensalah said, about the drivers' experience, capability to race or track record. He had been close to both men for years, and was mourning the loss of two good friends. Mr al Mehairi had won several championships, he said, and "knew well what it takes to tune and prepare a boat".

Mr Sanchez's focus was "constantly on driving the boat and how the speed is managed", he said. "Back on the dock, he is a gentleman, straightforward, and he was a fantastic father." Colleagues described him as "a man with a big heart". pmenon@thenational.ae