A BUSINESSMAN taking part in the world famous Dakar Rally has been seriously hurt in a fatal crash.
East Lancashire dad-of-three Justin Birchall, 40, was one of three British men airlifted to hospital after a horrific three-car smash as they followed a stage of the motorsport rally in Peru.
He was travelling in a support vehicle with other members of his team, Race2Recovery, after they had retired from the race, because of mechanical problems.
The crash happened when his four, a Land Rover Defender, hit a taxi head-on while travelling in convoy alongside other support vehicles.
A second taxi overturned several times as it swerved to avoid the accident.
The driver and a passenger in one of the taxis died, while four other Peruvians were also injured.
Mr Birchall, who runs Birchall Foodservice in Network 65 Business Park, Hapton, and lives in Burnley, was taken to a hospital in Tacna, 10 miles from the Chilean border.
His team mechanic Lee Townsend, from Yate, near Bristol, and retired Army Major John Winskill, 42, a logistics expert from Durrington, near Salisbury, Wiltshire, also suffered serious injuries.
The three British men have now been transferred to a hospital in the Peruvian capital, Lima, where they were last night said to be ‘stable and conscious’. Their injuries were described as ‘non-life-threatening’.
Mr Birchall and his navigator, Cpl Tom Neathway, had earlier been forced to retire from the gruelling off-road race when their Wildcat vehicle broke down during the fourth stage.
The accident happened at around 9.30pm local time on Wednesday, around 2.30am GMT on Thursday.
Race2Recovery team leader, Captain Tony Harris, said the accident was being investigated by the police in Peru and the team was being supported by the race organisers.
He said: “Our hearts go out to the families and relatives of those who have died in this tragic accident and we offer them our condolences and sympathy.
“Our entire team has been struck by the friendliness and support we have received from the Peruvian people since arriving for the Dakar Rally.”
Mr Birchall was one of four drivers partnering members of the armed forces severely injured in combat as part of the 28-strong Race2 Recovery team.
He volunteered to drive in the 9,000km, two-week rally to help them with their mission to raise funds for British and American ex-servicemen.
Colleagues in his Hapton office had pledged to raise £25,000 for the team’s chosen charity, Tedworth House, a Help for Heroes project based in Wiltshire.
Captain Harris, who lost a lower leg while serving in Afghanistan, said members of his team’s two remaining Wildcat vehicles had unanimously agreed to continue the race.
He said: “This is obviously a huge shock but we know that we have the blessing of the injured. They want the team to finish.”
The rally began in Lima on Saturday and will finish in southern Chile on January 20.
A statement by the race’s organisers said: “The accident involved a support vehicle with three passengers and two taxis, one of them carrying six people and the other with four people.
“One of the two taxis collided head-on with the support vehicle, and the second taxi overturned several times in an attempt to avoid the accident.
“Unfortunately, two of the people in the first taxi, one of them the driver, died, and seven others were injured.
“The Peruvian authorities have begun an inquiry into the accident in order to determine the exact causes.”
Three ambulances, a fire engine and several police officers attended the scene of the incident along with a Peruvian police Antonov aircraft on special alert.
The rally, billed as the world's toughest race, has been held in South America since 2009 because of security threats in Mauritania, which borders the original host nation of Senegal in Africa.
The off-road endurance race crosses dunes, mud, camel grass and rocks.
Stages can cover up to 560 miles per day.