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A2/1996Y Accident at the Neste 1000 Lakes Rally competition in Jyväskylä on 23 August, 1996

At 18.58 on 23 August 1996, a serious accident occurred during the first special stage at the NESTE 1000 LAKES RALLY, Finland, which is part of the world rally championship. A competitor’s car crashed into the crowd, killing one member of the audience, a Belgian. 32 other spectators were injured. The Injuries of nine of the spectators were serious.

The spectators in question were viewing the rally from behind tapes set up by the organizers, almost 80 metres away from the road. Afterwards, it was concluded that this viewing area was dangerous, since it was on a tangent from a steep curve in the road. Should a driver enter into the curve with too high a speed and realize this at the curve, he would instinctively turn the car to go straight in order to avoid careening sideways off the road, and overturning the car.

The team of drivers in the rally car in question were from Denmark, and they were used to Danish rallies. The only experience that the driver had had with Finnish rallies was as a co-driver.

The team had prepared carefully for the first special stage on the Harju hill, where the accident occurred. Before the rally the competitors could acquaint themselves with the route along with normal traffic. In so doing, the maximum speed was 40 km/h, while the speed during the rally itself can be four times this.

The team, and in particular the driver, had had a strong need to get a good time and do well on the Harju special stage. They were trying to place among the first 20 or 25 competitors. This was a realistic possibility at least in respect of the car, which was almost new, fast, competitive in its class and well constructed.

Regardless of the type of driver, the first special stage is without exception difficult for all drivers, until such time as the pressures connected with the rally have been released and the competitors have been able to find the right so-called driving rhythm.

The rally began well for the car that was later involved in the accident. The special stage started out along the asphalt road, which the driver drove according to plan. According to the assessment of spectators, this car was clearly the fastest out of the 54 cars that had so far competed. According to the driver's statement, the speed of the car on the stretch, which was about 300 metres long, could have reached 180 km/h.

At the end of this stretch, the driving route preferred by the competitors goes first along the left edge of the road, and then cuts sharply to the right side after a clear rise in the road.

Just before the rise, the driver must brake sharply in order to slow down from the speed achieved on the stretch, in order to get the car to the ideal line on the road. Otherwise, the driving up the rise will "lighten" the car, and the car would lose its grip on the road at the next curve. Immediately after the rise, the road curved sharply down and to the right. Most drivers "cut across" the inside of the curve so that one half of the car goes off the asphalt. This is also how the team that was involved in the accident had planned to drive.

The driver of the car in question drove the stretch at a considerable speed, received the proper instructions (notes) from his co-driver regarding the curve ahead, and steered the car to the left edge of the road.

The car was about 1 -2 metres closer to the middle of the road than were other cars used for comparison.

At the point where he was to slow down the car, the driver shifted to a lower gear, and either completely forgot to brake or braked too little in relation to the speed. Had the driver completely forgotten to brake, this may have been due to the fact that the driver had felt that the special stage had so far gone exceptionally well, and this well-driven stretch had resulted in the driver being blind to the speed, despite having correctly heard the instructions (notes). The driver turned into the right-hand curve several metres too soon. As a result the curve was no longer a round one, and the driver had to get the car to turn more sharply into the curve. At the rise, the speed of the car was still 140-150 km/h. As a result of the speed and the failure to brake, the car became "lighter” at the rise, and this considerably lessened the grip that the car had on the road. Before the rise, there were two small cracks in the asphalt, which contributed in loosing the grip on the road. As a result of the line of travel, the failure to correctly assess the speed and the loss of the grip on the road, the car was no longer able to turn into the Pitkäkatu Street curve. The car veered in part sideways off the asphalt at a speed of 120 km/h, without leaving any discernible marks on the asphalt. The driver felt the car lose its grip on the road, and instinctively turned to the left in order to avoid overturning the car and rolling over onto the roof. It is certain that at the latest at this stage the driver began to brake. The car was proceeding at 110 km/h. The driver knew about and saw the walkway, and he tried to turn the car onto this. It was his intention to turn onto the walkway, brake and back up to the route. When the driver decided to turn onto the walkway, he could not see the spectators some 80 metres away.

The driver succeeded in turning the car to the extreme right hand edge of the walkway, in part onto the lawn, where there is an indentation between the road and the walkway up from the road, on the average 36 cm deep. On coming to the edge of the walkway, the speed of the car was 100 km/h. The car hit the indentation and bounced up into the air with a speed of 80 km/h. The car flew completely in the air, and its rear side hit a traffic sign with a speed of about 60-70 km/h. The car fell front first to the ground, at which the undershield that had protected the engine became detached from its forward fastenings and bent under the car, again raising the front of the car off the ground. The car fell to the ground completely just before the concrete barriers on the walkway, and crashed into and over these barriers. Behind the concrete barriers was yet another tape that was intended to keep the public away from the track. Behind the first tape were three female officials, who were able to avoid the car. The spectators were behind the second tape, in several rows. The car hit the spectators with an estimated speed of 40 km/h, and continued for about 20 metres. When this happened, several people were run over or pushed aside by the car.

The driver had had no possibility of braking or of steering the car once it left the track. Had the car not jumped into the air, it is possible that the driver could have stopped the car with some skilful braking before it hit the spectators.

When the errors made by the driver are assessed, it must be recalled that the organizers of the special stage in the rally should create conditions where drivers may and can make mistakes. The line between good driving performances and bad failures is a narrow one.

The focus in the rescue was with the medical rescue services, since the accident did not involve a fire, and strictly speaking there were no victims of the accident under or pinned by the car. The first aid and medical personnel that the organizers had brought to the special stage, and the many physicians and nurses that were to be found among the spectators, began first aid without delay. The order of urgency for the transport of the patients was done successfully, and all patients had been transported for medical treatment within about 45 minutes. The speed of the transport of the patients was improved by the good arrangements that the police made for the directing of traffic. From the point of view of the rescue, the scene of the accident was fortuitously in the immediate vicinity of a fire department and a hospital.

The directing of the rescue operations was disturbed by the loud noise from a helicopter that was hovering above the accident, carrying representatives of the media who were taking pictures.

It was difficult to identify persons responsible for the management of different functions since only those who were organizing the rally itself were wearing distinctive vests or the like. It is difficult for those outside the professions to recognize the sleeve and helmet insignia currently used by the fire and rescue services.

The Central Finland emergency centre lacked a detailed set of emergency instructions in the event of different accidents, and differences between the time indicated by different clocks gave false data regarding what steps the emergency centre had taken, and the performance and action time of the different operational units.

The complete overloading of the mobile telephone network hampered the use of GSM and NMT mobile telephones in the communications by the authorities.

In order to avoid similar accidents, the Board of Investigation has made safety recommendations to those who organize rallies. The main elements of these recommendations are the protection of spectators, limitations on the speeds in super special stages before the public, and the development of safety plans and safety arrangements.

In addition, in this report the Board of Investigation makes some recommendations for the development of the actions of the authorities in the event of accidents.

A2/1996Y Report (pdf, 1.0 Mt)

Published 23.8.1996