A Sri Lankan Airlines flight attendant was killed and three of her colleagues injured while on desert safari in Qatar on Friday evening.
A statement issued by the airline through the official Sri Lankan news agency news.lk named Ammendra De Kauwe as the victim in the incident, while three other cabin crew staff were taken to hospital for treatment and were said to be in a stable condition.
De Kauwe’s body is expected to be flown back to her family home in Seeduwa on the island’s west coast on Monday, according to The Sunday Times Sri Lanka.
Sri Lankan Airlines’ official statement does not give any details of what happened, but adds: “As the employer we have convened an inquiry in to the incident and await its report.”
However, the Sunday Times reports that the vehicle the group were travelling in “turned turtle” during a desert safari.
An employee of one of the popular tour organizers in Qatar told Doha News that he understood the group had been using their own, private vehicle and driver, and had not booked the trip through one of the country’s established travel companies.
“Dune bashing” in 4×4 vehicles is a popular activity throughout the region, particularly on weekends.
Once dubbed “the graveyard of young men” by one Australian expat, the country’s vast expanse of sand dunes offer visitors an intense adrenaline rush, but the rapid ascents and descents carry significant risks with “accidents and near-misses commonly reported,” according to QTA.
Any regulation of individual tours would be near-impossible to enforce without the support of other agencies including the Ministry of Interior (MoI).
However last year the QTA said it was planning new requirements for 4×4 vehicles, which appear to include them needing to have safety features such as roll bars, first aid kits, radio equipment and rigid “bull bars” attached to the front of the vehicle to protect its occupants.
At the time, QTA documents said “current (desert safari) options do not follow regulated safety standards.” However several tour operators said they were prevented from upgrading their vehicles due to Traffic Department licensing requirements, and that they welcomed the proposed new rules.
Walid Al Jaouni, the CEO of Qatar International Adventures, previously told Doha News: “If we are told, ‘No vehicles (in the desert) without safety bars,’ I would be happy. I know how important these things are. It will improve our business if we can (improve) safety … We would welcome these ideas.”
In addition to the new rules for the vehicles, the regulations would also require desert safari drivers to meet minimum requirements, including an advanced overland drivers certification by a recognized instruction institute, and a roll-over and simulation driver testing from a recognized institute.