Porsche enthusiast recalls tragic Paqpaqli accident which left wife and daughter permanently injured
Lawyer and Porsche enthusiast Michael Grech yesterday took to the witness stand to testify in the case filed against the Paqpaqli Ghall-Istrina event organisers and driver Paul Bailey. He recalled how his day out with his wife and their daughter turned into tragedy.
Like thousands of other Maltese car enthusiasts, Dr Grech had driven to the MIA runway for the event. He gave a donation to the Malta Community Chest Fund and was given the chance to drive a Porsche. Dr Grech said that everything seemed under control and with the 30 to 50 people who wanted to drive, there was one Porsche instructor.
On the day of the incident, Dr Grech and his fellow club members met in Marsa and drove to the airport, where the event was taking place. The drivers were accompanied by a police escort. They entered the area and parked their cars for display.
The witness said that at around 1:30pm, he called his wife who was also on site. Half an hour later, the PA system announced that a Porsche was going to be driving through the drifting circuit and so he decided to walk in that direction and stopped before Hangar 9.
“We stopped when we saw a group of people waiting for the drifting session by Paul Bailey. I then walked a bit further as I wanted to check at what time the sprints were going to take place. Suddenly, I heard the screeching of car brakes and the sound of an impact.”
Within seconds, Dr Grech walked back to where his family was and saw his daughter lying on the ground, bleeding.
“There was a lot of blood, a lot of panic.”
The daughter had fractured her head and someone was holding her. “She was non-responsive but still breathing.” Meanwhile, Dr Grech saw his son holding his mother’s handbag. “I could not find my wife,” he said.
Then a man told him that there was a woman behind the car which had just drifted through the crowd. “I found her there behind the car door. There was a police inspector with her. She looked conscious but at first I thought that she had lost her legs.”
The daughter was the first to be taken into the ambulance which arrived on site. “She spent the first couple of days in intensive care.” His wife spent a longer time at the ICU. “They told me my wife had suffered from numerous limb fractures. She spent more than a month and a half in hospital.”
Both daughter and wife suffered from grievous injuries. His wife was grievously injured in the head. “Her jaw, elbow, rib cage and shoulder were all broken. One of her legs was broken in eight places. She’s still unable to move without a wheelchair until this very day,” he said.
He recalled how his wife had to undergo countless operations. Operations on her right leg have so far been unsuccessful. Back in February, his wife had to go to London for surgery.
His daughter spent days without moving. At first CT scans showed that the impact did not damage the brain. “She eventually started talking again. Her first words were to ask for her mother. Eventually I started to note that she would stop and stare at an object. She was taken back to ICU and an MRI showed that the accident had caused some damage to the brain.”
It later transpired that the accident had even affected her hormones.
“Further tests showed that she had suffered a blow to the part of the brain which controls the hormones. She is still undergoing physiotherapy. There was slight progress but she is somehow still limited. Her face is still scarred.”
Dr Grech’s son, although never physically affected by the accident, has experienced intense anxiety.
“My life was turned upside down. My wife does not sleep at night because of the pain. She only manages to sleep with morphine.”
Dr Grech had been to the event twice before. “I always assumed that Tonio Darmanin organised the event,” he said, adding that he did not know who the members of the organising committee were.
The witness said that the barriers were not filled with water and the public was placed behind a rope stuck to metal rods.
Juanpablo Siracusa, Chief Officer Claims at Mapfre Middlesea Insurance, was also called to testify. He said that the company chose to cover the event but could not identify a specific individual who represented the client.
Mr Siracusa said that he could not have such information as the client had used an insurance broker to search for the best offer to cover the charity event.
Lawyer Roberto Montalto repeatedly asked who the client really was. The witness said that the company always corresponded with the broker. He also explained that this was not the first time that Mapfre Middlesea covered the event.
Mr Siracusa explained that the clients in this case were those individuals who represented the organising entities, including Paqpaq Productions and the Malta Community Chest Fund.
Magistrate Aaron Bugeja asked if the insurance company carries out risk assessment or analysis of what risks this event could carry. The witness replied that for the drifting section, the same section where the accident took place, the company did not specify what kind of fencing was necessary. He said that this was not done, possibly, because this event was held in the past with no problems whatsoever.
The insurance covered all the event throughput, from preparations to the dismantling phase and the insurance was specifically opened for this event.
He then added that the postal address of the client was San Anton Palace, the residence of the President of the Republic.
Engineer Marshall Dalmas representing MIA, also testified. His role is to take care of airport operations. He was tasked with the coordination of the area which was going to be used by the organisers. Lieutenant Brian Gatt and Tonio Darmanin normally attended the meetings.
Mr Dalmas explained that during these meetings, they identified the areas to be used and the safety measures needed. They decided to use a runway for parts of the show which involved speeding. The organisers wanted to use the runway. Exact speeds and cars to be used were not specified but he was told that there would be speeding cars.
In previous statements which were read out by lawyer Montalto, Mr Dalmas said that Mr Darmanin and Lt Gatt had insisted that the runway be used for these high speed runs.
“They insisted,” he had said in the statement. Mr Darmanin and Lt Gatt had expressed safety concerns over these high speed runs.
“We chose to give up the runway for the event with the condition that all assessments had to be carried out by the organising committee.”
The lawyer asked if the MIA was given a copy of some sort of an assessment.
“What happens in the conceded area falls under the organiser’s responsibility. We are aviation experts not car experts,” Mr Dalmas added.
The case resumes on 8 May.
Her jaw, elbow, rib cage and shoulder were all broken. One of her legs was broken in eight places. She’s still unable to move without a wheelchair until this very day.