The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Latest News

January 9, 2013

VIDEO | 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.

___

Sergei Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, contributed to this report.

 

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Latest News
  • fire_23 Investigators seek cause of West End fire

    The cause of a five-alarm fire early Monday at a vacant structure in the 500 block of Dorothy Avenue in Johnstown’s West End has not been determined, according to city fire officials.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Richland seeks loan for roof, HVAC work

    Richland Township’s plans to replace the municipal building’s roof and heating and air conditioning system will cost nearly $600,000, Solicitor Gary Costlow said.

    July 22, 2014

  • Undocumented children already arriving in state

    An influx of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border is spilling over into Pennsylvania, as state officials received word Monday that more than 500 are being housed in the commonwealth.

    July 22, 2014

  • Auditor cites flaws in gas drilling regulation

    Strained by limited resources and the rapid expansion of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, environmental regulators have failed to adequately monitor well safety or to provide clear and timely information to citizens, the state auditor general said Tuesday.

    July 22, 2014

  • Driver in fatal DUI crash will serve jail time

    A Vintondale man was sentenced Tuesday in Cambria County court to serve 16 to 32 months in the county jail for a 2011 alcohol-related crash that killed a woman.

    July 22, 2014

  • Reade Twp. water projects receive funding

    Three water treatment systems in Cambria County will receive financial assistance from the state Department of Environmental Protection to remove acid mine drainage from nearby waterways.

    July 22, 2014

  • stoystown Tractor Fest Antique tractors chugging toward Stoystown fest

    A display of a whole lotta horsepower and pulling contests will highlight the 14th annual Antique Tractor Festival.
    Sponsored by Stoystown Lions Club and Laurel Highlands Antique Power Club, the event will be held July 31 through Aug. 3 at the Lions’ park, one-half mile east of Stoystown on Route 30.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Irish dance school wants to set toes tapping in Cambria County

    If you ever wanted to learn to dance an Irish jig, now is your chance.
    Kenny Cavanaugh School of Irish Dance, based out of Milford, Pike County, is expanding into Cambria County.

    July 22, 2014

  • Paterno son, other former assistant sue Penn State for $1M

    A son of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has sued the university over his dismissal from its coaching staff two years ago, saying he has been unfairly linked to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

    July 22, 2014

  • Local briefs 7/23/2014

    July 22, 2014

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
Order Photos


Photo Slideshow

House Ads