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Disaster in the desert: Off-roader crushes spectators

An off-road truck in a Californian race ploughed into a crowd and scattered "bodies everywhere", killing eight people and injuring 12 others.

The crash came shortly after the start of the California 200 on Saturday night, a race in the Mojave Desert, said San Bernardino County Sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Bachman.

It took rescue vehicles and helicopters more than half an hour to reach the remote location, and spectators including off-duty police and firefighters helped the injured.

Six people died at the scene and two others passed away after being taken to a hospital, authorities said. Seven ambulances and 10 emergency aircraft responded, airlifting most of the 12 injured people to nearby medical centres.

"There was dust everywhere, people screaming, people running," said David Conklin, a photographer covering the event for off-road magazines.

Paramedics brought six people -- five adults and a child -- to Loma Linda University Medical Centre, said spokesman Herbert Atienza but he had no information on their condition.

Mr Conklin said the Prerunner truck was among the first 20 off the line in the race. It had just gone over a jump known as "the rockpile" about two miles into the race, and he said he watched the truck sail through the air. Then he turned to watch for other vehicles when he heard the crash.

"When I got up to the vehicle I could tell that several people were trapped. There were just bodies everywhere," he said. "One woman with a major head wound (was) lying in a pool of blood. Someone else was crushed beneath the car."

The truck came to a rest upside down. Spectators rushed to the truck and about half-a-dozen people flipped it upright to try to help at least one person pinned underneath.

Officials said the driver wasn't hurt but had to flee the scene to escape angry spectators.

The 200-mile race is part of a series held in the Mojave Desert's Soggy Dry Lake Bed near the city of Lucerne Valley, 100 miles north-east of Los Angeles.

Tens of thousands of people attend the California 200, in which a variety of off-road vehicles take jumps and other obstacles and reach speeds of up to 100mph on the 50-mile off-road course. The race had been scheduled to last through the night.

The crowd had been standing within 10ft of the track with no guard rails separating them from the speeding vehicles.

"There were no barriers at all," said Jeff Talbott, of the California Highway Patrol. The event was sponsored by the South El Monte-based Mojave Desert Racing.

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