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In the 1977 South African Grand Prix, at the end of the 21st lap, Renzo Zorzi experienced an engine failure on his number 17 Shadow at the exit of the Leeukop turn. Having lost power, the car slowed down and Zorzi pulled it to the left of the track after the high speed Kink that preceded the start/finish line. As Zorzi was leaving the cockpit of the Shadow an oil leak developed, and car began to catch fire. Zorzi had at first trouble leaving the cockpit, as the cables connected to his helmet did not released when he pulled them.
Two young marshals who were working at the entrance of the pitlane were given instructions to cross the track and put out the fire in Zorzi’s disabled car. One of them was Frederick Jansen van Vuuren, a 19-year-old booking clerk at Jan Smuts Airport in Johannesburg. The young man, with no previous experience in racing, was delighted to be a fire marshal at such an important event.
The Kink was located on a crest, so the location of Zorzi’s car was not clear to drivers approaching it. Also, Formula 1 race cars passed that zone at some 280 km/h while drivers were focused on the right side of the track where the signaling boards placed by the team mechanics were shown, making even more difficult to the other racers to spot the Shadow. As the marshals crossed the track with fire extinguishers two cars came over the crest, with Zorzi’s team mate Pryce, in the DN8 - Ford number 16 slipstreaming Hans Joachim Stuck's March 761B – Ford. Coming upon the marshals at very high speed as he closed the twenty-second lap, Stuck was just able to swerve all too-slightly, avoiding the first marshal and barely missing hitting the second. Pryce, running close to Stuck, was not so lucky, as there was no time for him to react. The Shadow hit van Vuuren, flailing him into the air and killing him instantly. The forty-pound (about 18.2 kg) fire extinguisher that van Vuuren was carrying struck Pryce in the face, killing him upon impact as well.
Pryce’s out-of-control Shadow, with its front damaged, carried on along the downhill start/finish line. The car veered to the right and, scraping the barriers, continued to develop some 250 km/h. It crossed the track at the Crowthorne Bend at the end of the straight and collected Jacques Laffite’s Ligier JS7 – Matra; the two cars went over a 50-meter run-off area and crashed violently against the fences and a wall at the outside of the turn. At first Laffite, who was uninjured, was annoyed by the accident and left the Matra to argue with Pryce, but immediately stopped once he noticed Pryce’s lifeless body in the cockpit of the white and blue machine.
South African Grand Prix
Frederick Jansen van Vuuren (Marshal)
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