What you need to know:
- Njiru was immediately put on a drip and oxygen mask, then professionally loaded into the chopper together with Sidi who suffered bruises on the left wrist.
- They were immediately airlifted to the Nairobi Hospital.
- Sidi was treated but remained in hospital for further observation while Njiru, who had suffered neck injuries, was immediately taken to the High Dependence Unit.
As explained yesterday, the Group ‘B’ cars were coffins in motion. These cars were too fast to race. In 1986, world motorsports body FIA banned the Group ‘B’ cars from the World Rally Championship (WRC) and introduced the Group ‘A’ class, a four-seater car with a maximum engine output of 300 brake horse power.
The FIA also prioritised the safety of the crews and spectators as a primary duty. European events were held on closed roads, but the Safari Rally was still an adventurer where competing cars fought for space with domestic and wild animals and spectators.
The danger was always lurking on the horizon, like in 1992 when the Lancia Delta HF of Bjorn Waldergard caught fire at roadside refuelling points and was reduced to a body shell.
There were the usual crashes and rolls but nothing compared to the near-fatal accident suffered by Patrick Njiru and Abdul Sidi in the 1995 Safari.
In the previous year, Njiru started believing in himself after finishing fourth a Subaru Impreza WRX STi, navigated by Sidi, the year Kenyans dominated the Safari with Ian Duncan leading eight of his compatriots amongst the 14 finishers.
British American Tobacco (BAT) immediately signed Njiru in an annual, Sh8.5 million three-year contract, then the highest for a sportsperson in Africa.
Njiru drove a Group ‘N’ Subaru, a modified standard production car prepared by Subaru Technica International (STi), and entered by Noriyuki Koseki’s Japan-based Subaru Motorsport Group.
He teamed up with Richard Burns in 1995, a year the team suffered all sorts of mechanical problems.
Leg One was uneventful, but pressure from Kenyans, the team and sponsors was showing on Njiru.
On Day Two, the duo left KICC early morning for the second leg. Cars went through Ngong Hills into Magadi Road, down the floor of the Rift Valley, 30 kilometres from Nairobi, turning to the left at Ole Tepesi for a 145-kilometre long haul exiting at Ntulele towards Narok.
The weather was hot and the roads were dry.
It had several flowing corners for the first five kilometres; the point Njiru came to grief after the car overshot a right bend rolling several times in the bundus before landing on all its four wheels.
It was so comprehensively damaged that even the roll cage, made of hardened steel, bent upward from its apex, so luckily, it did not collapse inwards.
Fans, without first aid experience, rushed to the rescue of the duo. Sidi managed to come out unaided but Njiru was pulled out jua kali style and made to lay down on a hard surface under a tree.
The stage controller radioed was alerted by somebody who drove back at the start five kilometres away.
He quickly radioed the Safari HQ at Hotel Intercontinental, and a light Flying Doctor Service aircraft was dispatched from Wilson Airport, so were other rescue vehicles.
The aircraft made it fast to the accident scene but there was nowhere to land. The pilot actually attempted to land on the tarmac, a manoeuvre considered too dangerous. Nobody wanted another disaster.
Meanwhile, mayhem continued on the ground with spectators milling around Njiru who was on and off consciousness until a doctor arrived with his small medical kit bag — which had only pain killers — and immediately started stabilising Njiru.
The organisers quickly radioed Moi Air Base at Eastleigh where the base commander dispatched a helicopter which arrived within 15 minutes with a group of military medical personnel with proper medical equipment.
Suffered neck injuries
Njiru was immediately put on a drip and oxygen mask, then professionally loaded into the chopper together with Sidi who suffered bruises on the left wrist.
They were immediately airlifted to the Nairobi Hospital.
Sidi was treated but remained in hospital for further observation while Njiru, who had suffered neck injuries, was immediately taken to the High Dependence Unit.
Kenyans were in shock. For some of them, the Safari was over.
Luckily, the crew was released from the hospital and actually attended the end of the rally celebrations at the KICC.
But this matter did not end there. Subaru boss Koseki and the team’s local co-ordinator, Javaid Alam, immediately sent a recovery vehicle with a group of mechanics who sealed the accident scene from where they wrapped the mangled wreck with polythene and quietly organised for it to be returned to Fuji Heavy Industry in Japan by a cargo plane for further studies on the roll cage.
A report was prepared but it has never been made public.
This in a way led to the improvement of the cage while back home the Safari organisers realised the importance of having their own medical and rescue teams equipped with the latest hard and software to handle accidents.
This was not an isolated case because the following year, the rallying scene was sent into mourning following the death of Tanveer Alam in 1996 before the start of the Kenya National Rally Championship Mombasa Rally.
The young driver was involved in a head on collision with a bus in a public road while in a practice session driving a Subaru Legacy.
In 1997, Bimal Shah was involved in a nasty roll in the Eldoret Rally which was another harrowing experience.
Phineas Kimathi, who was staring a possible victory in a Hyundai Elantra, stopped to help the crew.
The Subaru Impreza was returned to the UK for a new roll cage rebuild but Shah gradually exited the scene.
These accidents were the precursors of the first and biggest accidents in Kenya, noted in the 1985 Marlboro Safari Rally.
The Safari was flagged off on Thursday, April 4, outside the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in the morning with fanfare, as usual.
There was the drama of the unexpected, as was typical of the Safari of yore, but this time safety was tested in front of world television.
At Bura Control Point, two things went terribly wrong for Hans Schuller and his navigator Wolfgang Siller in a Nissan 240RS factory-prepared car, then the least of the most powerful Group ‘B’ cars.
In full throttle, as usual, the Nissan skidded around a bridge, hitting the guard railing taking the car on a roll five times before resting on its left side.
The five-point safety belt harness was loosened by the impact which threw Shuller out through the rear windscreen. He landed in the middle of the road.
Photographer at scene
Fans, mostly villagers came to the quick rescue of Siller by lifting the car back on the road. Others worked on the doors and pulled out Siller from the car, never mind none was a doctor or first aider trained on how to handle an accident victim.
One of the eyewitnesses was photographer Anwar Sidi Hussein who captured the whole drama. He also joined in the rescue operation.
Shuller was loaded into a pick-up and rushed to a nearby mission hospital where the doctor advised specialised treatment after stabilising the patient.
This accident was reported to Safari headquarters at the KICC through a two-way radio and the drivers were later airlifted to the Aga Khan Hospital two hours after the accident.
After that, rescue personnel and doctors would be more not more than 30 minutes from an accident situation.