An amateur photographer had just told his wife he was extending his holiday to watch a desert car race when one of the drivers lost control and ploughed into him.
The man in his 60s was killed instantly after the race truck careered off course and hit a group of trackside spectators at the Finke Desert Race near Alice Springs.
Witnesses say the victim, from the ACT, was crushed by the vehicle and dragged underneath it for several metres while other spectators leapt for the lives.
Spectator Christine Zander said she was within touching distance of the dead man when the accident happened and was only saved by her partner, Geoff, pulling her clear.
The amateur photographer had just told his wife he was extending his holiday to watch the desert car race when one of the drivers lost control and ploughed into him
She said the group of them had been standing close to the edge of the offroad race track, near a small hill, when the accident happened on Monday morning.
The race truck is understood to have crested the hill and gone airborne, before crushing its own suspension when it hit the ground.
The driver is said to have then lost control and the vehicle veered sharply into the group of spectators.
‘It was so freaky. It was just there, up in the air, and then he was gone,’ Ms Zander told the ABC. ‘I would have been the last person he spoke to.’
The Tatts Finke Desert Race is an off-road multi-terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads
She told NT News: ‘He said he rang his wife and said, “The Finke’s on, I’m going to extend the holiday”, so that’s what he did.
‘This was the first time he had ever come to it and he loved it, absolutely loved it. He was so happy.’
Another spectator was taken to Alice Springs Hospital with serious injuries and was expected to be airlifted to Adelaide for further treatment on Tuesday.
The driver of the vehicle – a woman in her 50s – was trapped in the wreckage but escaped with minor injuries.
Another amateur photographer revealed how he befriended the dead man before the accident and taken up position at the prime spot to catch the action.
‘We had almost the same cameras,’ Don Maculay, from Adelaide, told NT News. ‘He was just like me – an amateur photographer.
‘We started shooting here and there were a few cars that came through a bit crazy.
‘He got the full brunt of it.’
Now parallel inquiries by major crash detectives, Motorsport Australia and Finke DesertRace have been launched , with a focus on why spectators were allowed so close to the action at the spot 35km from the start/finish line.
Between 10,000 and 15,000 spectators are estimated to watch the race at various points over its 230km distance.
The race was abandoned in the wake of the tragedy. Northern Territory Police have asked any spectators who may have witnessed the incident or have dash cam or video footage to contact them on 131 444.
The Tatts Finke Desert Race is an off-road multi-terrain two-day race for bikes, cars, buggies and quads through desert country from Alice Springs to Aputula (Finke).
Held annually on the Queen’s Birthday long weekend in June, it’s one of the biggest annual sporting events in the Northern Territory.
The race is one of the most difficult off-road remote courses in the world.
The race, which is held annually, runs through desert country from Alice Springs to Aputula (Finke)
On Tuesday, Finke Desert Race Committee President Antony Yoffa offered support for all those affected by the accident and thanked emergency services for their quick action.
‘We extend our deepest sympathies and condolences to the family, friends and all those who have been impacted by this incident,’ he said.
‘We appreciate the efforts of all officials and volunteers across the weekend and commend the patience and understanding of competitors and spectators during this particularly difficult time.
‘On behalf of the Finke Desert Race committee, I’d also like to acknowledge the work of emergency services and first responders across the weekend.’