North West 200 chief tells of anguish after holding hand of dying rider Malachi Mitchell-Thomas
Saddened North West 200 chief Mervyn Whyte has spoken of his personal anguish at the loss of top young rider Malachi Mitchell-Thomas in Saturday's fatal crash that led to the abandonment of the event.
He revealed how he held the young rider's hand at the scene of the accident on the coast road, outside Portrush, before the 20-year-old slipped into unconsciousness as medical teams fought to save him.
Deeply affected Whyte told how he then paced the track, soul-searching, before taking the decision to call off the event with two races remaining and an expectant 80,000 sun drenched crowd lining the 8.9-mile Portrush-Portstewart-Coleraine track.
It was the first time in his 16-year association with the North West speed spectacular that Whyte had experienced a fatality on the actual track. Four other crash victims who have passed away in that time either died in hospitals or on their way there, including race legend Robert Dunlop in 2008.
"I knew immediately from radio contact that young Malachi was the rider down and that he was the only one involved before rushing to the scene in the race car," the Limavady man explained.
"It was immediately obvious the incident was serious. The medics were working on Malachi who was conscious, but barely.
"He was able to whisper a few words. I held his hand and then he lost consciousness. The medics worked on him for 40-45 minutes to revive him until they could do no more.
"It was my first experience of a fatality on the actual track and the reality of what had occurred hit me hard. I walked for a time, on my own, up and down the track, looking to the heavens and asking myself over and over, what do I do here?
"I was aware of the big crowds who had come expecting to see a day's racing and who had been superbly entertained up to that point.
"But the more I thought, the more I realised that I could not in all conscience ask riders to go out again after what had happened. Nor could I have lived with myself if I had allowed racing to resume and another accident had occurred.
"In the event, my understanding is the vast majority of the crowd were understanding and supportive."
Whyte also paid tribute to Mitchell-Thomas, saying: "I met him for the first time at the Monday briefing for newcomers to the event and several times subsequently.
"He came across as bright, enthusiastic and keen to learn. He was full of questions. Everyone associated with the North West feels his loss and our thoughts and sympathies are with the family."
Whyte knows he will now face the inevitable calls from opponents of the sport and event for road racing to be curtailed or even outlawed.
But he vowed: "The North West will go on as long as we have the support of riders, their teams and families, fans in their thousands, the entire road racing fraternity, in fact.
"The event will continue, as will our emphasis on safety, which is constantly under review and being improved all the time.
"We have 500 safety bales, pole and kerb protectors, cameras, an army of marshals, on the spot medical teams and air evacuation by helicopter. But it is a high speed sport and it is impossible to legislate for every eventuality.
"What would help - and I am sure people are tired hearing this, but it is a fact - we need more funding from Government. The event barely covers its costs yet it brings in vast revenues that benefit the economy in general and the north coast in particular.
"If people have safety concerns at heart, they should join us in pressing Government here for more financial support, rather than just paying lip service."