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German Prosecutors Probe Death of Zugspitze Athletes

German prosecutors are investigating the tragic chain of events that led to the death of two extreme athletes taking part in an annual race up the country's highest peak, the Zugspitze.

Runners climb a slope during a mountain run towards the peak of Germany's highest mountain, Zugspitze

Most of the runners will ill-equipped for the bad weather

Prosecutors opened their investigation on Monday, July 14, a day after freezing temperatures, snow and wind turned the organized endurance race up the Zugspitze into total chaos.

Two runners, aged 41 and 45, died of hypothermia and exhaustion as they neared the finish on the 2,962-meter (9,718-ft) mountain. Six other runners who were hospitalized for hypothermia have since been released, police said on Monday.

Runners were underdressed

The race took place despite weather warnings predicting rain and low temperatures. Many of the 550 participants showed up wearing only shorts and thin running shirts.

"It was pouring rain," participant Dirk Schurig told the online edition of Der Spiegel magazine. "Futher up the mountain the rain turned to snow, and an icy wind was blowing."

As yet, no concrete investigation of any one person is taking place, according to the head of Munich's state prosecution, Ruediger Hoedl. Officials are currently interviewing witnesses and participants, and checking weather data.

"We're checking the facts," Hoedl said, adding that at least one of the men had died from hypothermia, according to an autopsy.

There is speculation, however, that the event's organizers could face charges of negligent manslaughter.

Rescue workers carry an injured runner into a helicopter during a mountain run towards the peak of Germany's highest mountain, Zugspitze, near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, southern Germany, Sunday, July 13

Rescue workers carry an injured runner into a helicopter

Organizer Peter Krinninger called off the race, which began at 9 a.m., at around 12:30 p.m. By then, around 100 rescue workers and four helicopters were in circulation among the athletes, many of whom had collapsed along the route.

Krinninger would not comment on the investigation, but told Der Spiegel that he was "very depressed and deeply shocked." He said his thoughts were with the family members of the two men who died.

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