Villager's selfless act saved freezing marathon runners

·News Reporter
·3-min read

A shepherd has been hailed a hero for saving the lives of six ultramarathon runners who were caught in the wild weather that claimed the lives of 21 competitors in China.

Zhu Keming, who had earlier been herding his sheep on mountainous terrain, was sheltering from the adverse conditions in a cave when he heard the distressed cries for help from athletes participating in the 100km-race near the Yellow River in the northern province of Gansu, The Paper reported.

The 49-year-old, from nearby village Changsheng, rushed out to find a group of athletes suffering badly from the cold and wet conditions as temperatures suddenly plummeted.

One athlete had begun to convulse. 

Zhu Keming has been hailed as a hero in China for his efforts helping athletes in the dangerous conditions. Source: Weibo
Zhu Keming has been hailed as a hero in China for his efforts helping athletes in the dangerous conditions. Source: Weibo

He moved the athletes into the cave where he lit fires and wrapped them in blankets he had previously left in the shelter.

He rushed out of the cave in search of phone signal so he could call rescue teams.

While awaiting help, he noticed something in the distance. On inspection it was a collapsed competitor. With the help of athletes who had regained strength from inside the cave, he carried the athlete to the cave before rescuers came to take the group to safety. 

'Touching' move from villagers

One image shared on Twitter-like site Weibo shows a group of villagers bringing quilts to wrap around the athletes. 

A competitor named Xue told the China Youth Daily their compassion was "really touching".

Mr Zhu's story has resonated with Weibo users where it has been seen more than 870 million times.

The exterior and interior of the cave where Mr Zhu sheltered the athletes. Source: Weibo
The exterior and interior of the cave where Mr Zhu sheltered the athletes. Source: Weibo

He said he did not want any praise for his actions as it was what "anyone would do in that situation".

However thousands thanked him online for his selfless act.

"Thank you stranger," one person said."

"He is the uncle of the gods!" another wrote.

Many called for Mr Zhu to be financially rewarded or the benefactor of fundraising to ensure he lives a life free from financial burden. 

Officials take blame in 'painful lesson'

At a news conference on Sunday, officials in Baiyin, a depressed mining city in Gansu province, bowed and apologised, saying they were to be blamed.

Sporting events, particularly extreme sports, have proliferated in western China in the last five years, encouraged by local officials looking to turn depleted mining towns into adventure and sports hubs, a strategy endorsed by Beijing.

Organisers of the Jingtai ultramarathon had halted the race at 2.00pm, two hours after runners sought help in mobile messaging groups, state-run Xinhua news agency reported, citing several participants who said they had received no notice of the suspension before they lost consciousness or suffered injury.

Mr Zhu, far right, with some of the rescued athletes. Source: Weibo
Mr Zhu, far right, with some of the rescued athletes. Source: Weibo

"The organiser should have had people stand by in the tough section of the trail, or deployed more rescuers. They should also have set mandatory rules on runners bringing outdoor jackets," surviving competitor Zhang Xiaotao said.

Protective gear such as warm jackets was recommended, not mandatory, in a list provided by the organisers, the official Xinhua news agency reported on Monday.

Most runners had set off in that ill-fated race wearing T-shirts and shorts. Some survivors described how their silver thermal blankets were ripped to shreds by the strong winds.

China's top sporting body convened an emergency meeting on Sunday night in response to the tragedy.

"Local authorities should formulate targeted safety and emergency response plans, and establish 'circuit-breaker mechanisms' (to quickly suspend events)," the General Administration of Sport said after its meeting.

"The Baiyin ultramarathon is a public safety accident due to sudden changes in local weather. The lesson was a very painful one."

With Reuters

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