Zorb ride in Russian mountains proves deadly

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Updated 10 January 2013
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Zorb ride in Russian mountains proves deadly

MOSCOW: It was supposed to be a thrilling ride down a ski slope inside a giant inflatable ball that is to be one of the symbols of next year’s Winter Olympics; it ended in tragedy for the two Russian men inside.
The transparent plastic ball — known as a zorb — veered off course and sailed over a rock ledge in the rugged Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia. The ball picked up speed as it flew down the steep slope, rolling and bouncing. One man was killed and the other badly injured.
The man who died, 27-year-old Denis Burakov, was with friends at the Dombai ski resort, where they frequently went snowboarding, on Jan. 3 when he decided to take a ride in a zorb being operated next to a beginners’ slope. His friend Vladimir Shcherbakov joined him.
An eight-minute video taken on Burakov’s phone by one of his friends shows the two men being fitted into harnesses inside the zorb, which consists of two polyurethane balls with a layer of air between them. The zorb is then released to roll down the hill, the two men spinning inside.
But the zorb bounces off of the intended path, and a man waiting for it at the bottom of the hill tries in vain to catch the ball before it pops over a rocky ledge and disappears down a gorge below Mount Mussa-Achitara.
The person filming the video is heard swearing and asking “What’s down there?” The answer from someone off camera: “It’s a catastrophe down there.”
The Emergencies Ministry said both men were ejected from the zorb as it tumbled and they landed on the snow about 10 meters (30 feet) apart after having rolled about 1.5 kilometers (a mile). Still conscious and able to stand, they were rescued by two skiers, who then pulled both men up to the top of the hill. Burakov suffered serious spinal injuries and died on the way to the hospital. Shcherbakov suffered a concussion and other injuries and remains hospitalized.
The accident prompted the emergencies minister to demand on Wednesday 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 organizing 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.
Federal investigators said they were inspecting the Dombai resort and attempting to determine who was responsible for the fatal zorb ride.
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 hospitalized Tuesday with injuries, including concussions and broken bones.
In Italy, a snowmobile driven by a Russian citizen crashed into a ravine during a nighttime outing on a steep ski slope last week, killing six Russians being pulled behind the vehicle on a sled. Italian police arrested the driver on Wednesday.
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Sergei Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, contributed to this report.


Arabs ‘crazy’ about British royals

Updated 7 min 6 sec ago
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Arabs ‘crazy’ about British royals

  • Cafe Diana's owner Abdul Basset Daoud named his shop 30 years ago after the late Princess Diana 30, who lived across the road in Kensington Palace
  • People from the Middle East really respect the Queen and not just because she is old, says one Arab restaurant owner

LONDON:  The cakes are ready, the flowers are ordered and the drinks are on ice. At the Cafe Diana in London’s Notting Hill, all was in place for a celebration marking the birth of Britain’s newest royal, the baby boy born Monday  morning to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.

“Of course, we’re having a party. We always do,” said manager Fouad Fattah.

The same was true a few kilometers away at the Fatoush restaurant, where manager Alaa William Chamas kept a watchful eye on the news headlines and a lookout for extra police traffic heading towards at St Mary’s Hospital, the venue for the royal birth. “We’re expecting a busy evening,”  he said. 

While an element of celebration might be expected at some British establishments,  Cafe Diana and Fatoush are Middle Eastern-owned and run. But they are embracing the latest royal event —  as well as the forthcoming wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle next month —  with all the enthusiasm of the most ardent monarchists.

“Are Arab people interested in the British royal family? Are you kidding? They are crazy about them!” said Lebanese-born Fattah, 55, who throws a party for his customers on every notable royal occasion.

 

Royal neighbor 

Cafe Diana forged a very real link with the royal family 30 years ago,  when the owner, Abdul Basset Daoud, decided to name his cafe after his royal neighbor, the late Princess Diana, who lived across the road in Kensington Palace.

He put up the sign at around Christmas time in 1988 and to his amazement, she came in two weeks later. She had seen it as she drove out with her bodyguard and it had made her smile, she told him, so she decided to drop in for a coffee.

It was not her only visit. She came again a couple of weeks later and Basset Daoud asked her if he out up a photograph of her. She returned the next day with a black and white studio. Then she began dropping in regularly, sometimes alone and often with her sons for a full English breakfast.

“The boys loved it. We are not a five-star restaurant. This is just an ordinary  neighborhood coffee shop. She wanted the princes  to experience things like normal kids,” said Fatah. 

“She didn’t mind queuing like any other customer. She usually sat with her back to the room. The other customers did not realise who she was until she stood up and they got a real shock.” 

And that, he insists, is why Arabs love the British royals.

“It’s because we can see them. They are not far away from the people. When the Queen goes out, there are just two cars with her, not 200. If the Queen goes past and you wave at her,  she waves back. You can shout out to the royals and they just smile.”

The walls of the cafe are now covered in  photographs of the princess, both formal portraits and informal snaps with the staff, and letters thanking them for sending her flowers for her birthday. The last is dated July 1, 1997, just two months before she died.

“Everyone who comes here wants to talk about the royal family,” said Fattah. “There was a lady from Kuwait who came in recently and she was crying her eyes out. I gave her a cup of tea and asked what was wrong. She said, ‘I loved Diana so much’.”

 

Arab love

It is much the same at Fatoush, a popular Lebanese restaurant on Edgeware Road, in the heart of what has been dubbed “Arab Street.”

Chatting over coffee, manager Alaa William (“Yes, that really is my name”) Chamas was adamant. 

“Arab people LOVE the British royal family. If they are living here, they really care about them. If they are visiting, they just want to talk about how they visited Buckingham Palace,” he said.

“I’m not interested!” boomed an unseen voice from the kitchen. “Be quiet!”  Chamas boomed back. Having admonished his wayward employee, Chamas returned to his theme.

“When there is a wedding in the royal family, the public are invited to share it. Now there is a new baby and they share this with the people.

“People from the Middle East really respect the Queen and not just because she is old. Some other rulers are also old but nobody thinks much about them. In some places, the people fear their rulers. Here they see that the Queen is loved.”

At the nearby Simit Sarayi cafe, manager Mukhtar Mohamed agreed. “It’s because the British royal family seem so accessible. You can visit Buckingham Palace — actually look round where they live! Arab visitors who have been coming to London for years follow all the news about the royals and they buy every souvenir they can get their hands on. If it’s got a picture of the Queen or Diana or William and Kate  on it, they want it. With Prince Harry getting married in a few weeks, they are buying like crazy.”

Back at Cafe Diana, Fattah is recalling a poignant visit by Harry a few years after the death of his mother.

“He must have been about 16 or 17. He was with his uncle, Prince Andrew, and he had just been to the barber next door to get his hair cut. On the way back to the car, he put his head round the door of the cafe and said, ‘Hi.’ Then he looked at all the photos and smiled and left.”

In four weeks’ time, Prince Harry is getting married. Cue for another party? “Absolutely!”