British Ex-Soldiers Seriously Injured In Fatal Dakar Rally Crash

Three people, including two former British soldiers, have been seriously injured in a fatal accident while competing in the Dakar Rally in Peru.

The ex-soldiers plus a civilian volunteer, all members of the Race2Recovery team made up of disabled British and American ex-servicemen, were taken to hospital in Lima, where their injuries have been confirmed as not life-threatening.

The crash involved one of the team's Land Rover support vehicles

Their vehicle, a Land Rover Defender which was a team support vehicle not a race car, was involved in a head-on collision while travelling in convoy on the fifth day of the rally with other support vehicles in the town of Tacna near the Chilean border.

Reports suggest two other vehicles were involved in the accident which killed two people and left others also injured.

Race2Recovery said the injured men, described as "stable and conscious" after being airlifted to the Peruvian capital from a local hospital in Tacna, are Justin Birchall, 40, a team driver and civilian volunteer from Burnley, Lancashire, whose Wildcat vehicle retired earlier in the race; former Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineer and Gulf War and Falklands war veteran Lee Townsend, a team mechanic, from Yate near Bristol; and retired Army Major John Winskill, aged 42, the team logistics expert from Durrington, near Salisbury in Wiltshire.

The 28-strong team includes servicemen who were wounded in combat and have missing limbs, spinal injuries and psychological and fragmentation injuries.

Justin Birchall (left) was one of those injured in the crash

In a statement released on the team's website, Team leader Captain Tony Harris 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.”

He said that the team had unanimously agreed to continue in the rally with the two remaining Wildcat vehicles.

“This is obviously a huge shock but we know that we have the blessing of the injured. They want the team to finish,” captain Harris said.

The accident came just a few hours after the team's third Wildcat race car was forced to retire after suffering mechanical failure.

The Dakar Rally is a tough test for both competitor and vehicle

The Dakar rally is widely regarded as one of the world's toughest motorsport events with competitors in cars, trucks and on motorbikes racing more than 8,000km in 15 days through desert and scrubland in Peru, Argentina and Chile. The race was originally held in Africa until 2008 but organisers were forced to find a new location after threats from Mauritanian terrorists.