Girl dead as 4x4 mows down fans at dakar rally

Carnage at world's 'most dangerous' race

Germany's Mirco Schultis and Swiss team-mate Ulrich Leardi, whose car accidentally ploughed into a group of Dakar Rally spectators, killing a female fan, didn't start Sunday's second stage.

The duo's 4x4 vehicle came off the track and smashed into the spectators who are believed to have strayed from a designated safe-viewing area near the town of Rio Cuarto, around 800km from Buenos Aires on Saturday. Sonia Natalia Gallardo, 28, who suffered serious head, pelvic and stomach injuries in the incident, died in a Cordoba hospital, while four others were hurt.

More than 50 people are believed to have been killed in the gruelling race since its inception in 1979. Three died in 2009 when the event was switched to South America from its traditional African home.

Schultis and Leardi smashed into a group of fans who "were in a non-authorised sector, a private area", said Julio Cesar Berrocal, the Cordoba police chief.

"Three vehicles came around a corner and two of them tried to get round. But the dust cloud kicked up by them prevented the third (Schultis and Leardi's 4x4) from seeing clearly and they came off the track."

Schultis was interviewed by police after the accident.

The latest death will raise more questions over security in the race, widely regarded as the world's most dangerous motor event.

After the three deaths in 2009, which involved French motorcyclist Pascal Terry and two men in a support lorry, extra measures were introduced for 2010. Five 'public zones' were set-up along the route of the first stage, which were planned to provide a safe and secure viewing area for spectators. In all, there are 57 such areas on the event's 14 stages.

The event was hit by another accident this week on Monday's third stage as four people were injured when a helicopter following the rally crashed, but none of the injuries was reported to be life-threatening. Officials said the helicopter lost lift because of strong winds in the area.