Mayeul Barbet, the navigator of the injured Philippe Boutron, has spoken publicly about the explosion which occurred on the eve of the 2022 Dakar Rally for the first time.
Boutron, the president of French soccer club US Orléans, suffered serious leg injuries when the team’s car exploded outside their Jeddah hotel as the crew made its way to the bivouac last Thursday.
In the car were Boutron, Barbet and four other team members when the blast happened, with Boutron placed in an induced coma – from which he has since woken – before being repatriated to France over the weekend.
Speaking to France’s BFMTV on Thursday morning, Barbet recounted the moments before and after the incident.
“We didn’t expect this sort of thing at all, we came to this rally to have some fun,” Barbet said.
“We were leaving the hotel to go to the bivouac as usual, to prepare our car. We were six in the car, so it was a good atmosphere in the car and we had done about 500m and after 500m…boom, an explosion.
“We had no idea what happened but there was a huge explosion. What happened after that was that at the time of the explosion I was pushed up to the roof of the car.”
Following the initial shock, Barbet and four others were able to extricate themselves from the car, with Boutron still stuck inside.
I didn’t really know what to do because he was bleeding quite a bit. And then, the car began to catch fireMayeul Barbet
“It was a complicated atmosphere after that because there were the airbags which came out and we got out of the car quickly, but before I got out, I heard Philippe say to me ‘Mayeul, you need to get me out’.
“So then, I understood that he was injured, so us five got out and we were all very shocked. And I realized that Philippe was hit more seriously. I opened the door and saw that his legs were very badly damaged, and I initially thought about leaving him in the car, to avoid moving him, I didn’t really know what to do because he was bleeding quite a bit.
“And then, the car began to catch fire so then we decided to get him out to get him to safety and take care of him outside of the vehicle.”
Barbet added that he ‘knew something wasn’t right’ given the ferocity of the blast and the lack of other cars surrounding the group of six.
Dakar director David Castera addressed the incident shortly after the opening day’s prologue, saying that an inquiry had been opened by Saudi authorities and that “increased security measures will be implemented for the duration of the Dakar”. Castera also said he ‘could not rule out malice’ as the reason for the explosion.
Since then, the French anti-terrorist agency (the PNA) has opened an investigation into a possible terror attack on the Dakar itself, while French foreign affairs minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told BFMTV in a separate interview that he would consider ‘canceling this sporting event’ following the incident.
“We have told the [Dakar] organizers and the Saudi authorities that they must be very transparent about what has happened.
“We have thought that it is maybe worth cancelling this event; the organizers have decided to keep it going. In this instance, you have to be very precautionary. At least there should be increased protections, which I think have been put in place, but questions still remain.”
Castera responded to Le Drian on France 4’s Dakar program later in the day by saying: “The Dakar will continue because there are no new developments. For us, the real question is, like the minister and his entourage, to know what happened on the 30th [December].
“We have put in place strict security measures with the help of the Saudi authorities and that is clear to see in the bivouac, at the hotels, at all the posts, so the rally will continue.”