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Russia probes Zorb death

Thursday 10 Jan 2013 7:53 a.m.

A still from the video prior to the imitation Zorb going out of control

A still from the video prior to the imitation Zorb going out of control

By 3 News online staff with The Associated Press

Russian authorities want tougher enforcement of safety rules for winter sports, following the death of a man in an imitation Zorb.

27-year-old Denis Burakov died at the Dombai ski resort in the Caucasus Mountains when the inflatable ball he and a companion were inside rolled out of control.

The Zorb bounced off its intended path, rolling over a rocky ledge and disappearing down a gorge before coming to rest on a frozen lake. The incident was captured on video.

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said both men were ejected from the Zorb as it tumbled and they landed on the snow about 10 metres apart after having rolled about 1.5 kilometres. Still conscious and able to stand, they were rescued by two skiers, who then pulled both men up to the top of the hill. Mr Burakov suffered serious spinal injuries and died on the way to the hospital. His companion, Vladimir Shcherbakov, suffered a concussion and other injuries and remains hospitalised.

Federal investigators said they were inspecting the Dombai resort and attempting to determine who was responsible for the fatal Zorb ride. The BBC reports that they want to question three owners of the zorb ride, who are reportedly on the run.

The accident prompted the emergencies minister to demand that Russia address its lax enforcement of safety rules for winter sports, citing a series of accidents over the January holidays. Vladimir Puchkov said during a televised meeting with officials in charge of rescue services across the country that they should take extra measures to ensure safety, in particular at Russia's ski slopes.

Sergei Loginov, deputy director of Z-orb.ru, the largest supplier of Zorbs in Russia, said the Zorbing run that killed Burakov was in violation of all safety rules. Zorbing requires a groomed gentle slope with fences on both sides of the track and a secure spot at the bottom where the ball can be safely brought to rest, he said, but none of this was present at Dombai.

"It's not even irresponsibility. It's an experiment on life," Loginov said. "It's all or nothing. They either survive or they don't."

The sport of Zorbing originated in the 1990s in New Zealand and is now done around the world, most often on grassy slopes. Loginov said there are several Zorbing spots on the outskirts of Moscow and dozens more around the country.

Zorbs have been adopted as a symbol of the 2014 Winter Olympics, which Russia is holding in Sochi.

`'The transparency of Zorbs also reflect the open, accessible and inclusive society that Sochi 2014 Games is helping to build," Dmitry Chernyshenko, head of the organising committee, said in 2010.

Sochi's modern ski resorts also are in the Caucasus Mountains. Dombai and other less-developed resorts are located to the east in the North Caucasus region, a patchwork of mainly Muslim republics suffering from poverty and unrest stemming from an Islamic insurgency.

"Until 2006, hundreds of people died every year at the North Caucasus ski resorts," said Kantemir Davydov, an Emergencies Ministry spokesman in southern Russia. "That number has fallen sharply, but still on average 20 to 30 tourists die every year. The causes of the deaths are various, but the root is the same: There is no clear system assuring tourism safety."

Eager for any business that brings in badly needed tourist revenue, local officials are reluctant to enforce safety requirements, Davydov said.

Russian state television suggested that one reason winter sports in Russia so often take lives is that people too often ignore basic safety rules. Its report showed families sledding on a slope near Moscow that was clearly marked "no sledding" and said six people had been hospitalised Tuesday with injuries, including concussions and broken bones.

3 News / AP

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