North West 200: Better safety may have saved rider, mechanic tells inquest
Safety at Northern Ireland's biggest sporting event has been questioned by the mechanic of a motorcycle racer killed during the North West 200.
Just one month before this year's races, the mechanic claimed enhanced precautions may have prevented the death of father-of-four Mark Buckley.
Mr Buckley (35) died of injuries he sustained in a crash during last year's race. An inquest into his death took place at Belfast's Laganside Court yesterday.
Mechanic Paul O'Hanlon told senior coroner John Leckey more safety bales should have been in place at the section of the course where the accident happened.
"It was bad luck, but it was the stopping at the end of the pole at the end that did the harm; he might have survived the crash but it was the sudden stop," he said. "He would not have went between the wall and pole had there been a bale there or something. There should have been something between the pole and the wall to stop someone going into it."
North West 200 race director Mervyn Whyte said that in his 40-year involvement with the event no rider had been killed or injured at that spot, a bend close to Station Road, Portstewart.
"We carry out numerous risk assessments on the course, safety is a number one priority," said Mr Whyte. "We work to make sure it is as safe as we possibly can."
Mr Whyte said additional safety measures will be placed in the area for this year's races.
Mr Buckley, a sales businessman from Alexandria, Dunbartonshire, had been taking part in the North West 200, a nine-mile circuit on Northern Ireland's north coast which attracts riders from across Britain and Ireland, for a decade. He rode in all classes and engine sizes.
He was on the first lap of the Superstock race on May 19 last year when the back tyre on his 1000cc Aprilia machine lost contact with the road as he went around a right-hand bend, swinging out and jerking him from his seat and into a high-speed tumble, race incident officer Tony Harvey said.
"The geometry of his machine would have been totally beyond control," he added.
Mr Buckley slid across the road, over a kerb and onto a footpath, coming to rest beside a wall outside some houses, a video played during the inquest showed.
Spectators nearby jumped back as rider and bike scraped across the ground towards them. Witness Paul Haire said: "I watched as the machine and rider hit a lamppost.
"The crowd went silent, the bike careered on up the road."
The inquest was told Mr Buckley lost control while travelling at speeds of up to 90mph.
His widow Jane, who he married three years ago, cleaned his visor as he sat on the bike awaiting the start of the race. Minutes later he was dying on the road.
A race doctor was on the scene within a minute. Mr Buckley was taken to Causeway Hospital where he was pronounced dead. Mrs Buckley told the inquest he said he "could not be bothered" ahead of the fatal race after suffering an electrical failure on a different bike. He felt his bike wasn't good enough to compete.
"He is not the type of person that goes just to make up the numbers and run about in the back of the field," she said.
But she said he'd never have gone out with a negative mindset.
"His whole life revolved around racing. I miss him, I really, really miss him," Mrs Buckley said following the inquest.
The North West 200 is a motorcycle race meeting held each May on the north coast. The course is a street circuit, made up of public roads running between Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush. Riders often reach speeds in excess of 200mph, making it one of the fastest road racing events in the world. Since its inception 15 riders have been killed, the first in 1939.