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Tough Mudder safety called into question after participant's death

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(WJLA) - Dawn rose on Gerrardstown, W.Va., a town of about 3,600, on a chilly weekend morning in October, bathing the course of a highly-anticipated 10-mile race in sunlight.

This isn't your ordinary race, though. It's this region's edition of the Tough Mudder, a race that sounds like torture to some and extreme fun to others.

Tough Mudder races are highlighted by hardy participants who crawl over hills of mud, plunge into tanks of ice-cold water and run through wires that could give them electric shocks.

It's those obstacles, and the unfortunate death of a participant in the same event in April, that have many wondering how safe these kinds of races really are.

The Tough Mudder brand of races that began three years ago with three races. In 2013, the race has expanded to 53 events in five countries.

"You come out that other end and you get that exhilaration," Tough Mudder participant Ben Powell said.

However, in April, 28-year-old Avi Sengupta never made it to the finish line. During a race in West Virginia on April 20, the Ellicott City resident was traversing an article called "Walk The Plank" - a 15-foot high balance beam over cold water - when he jumped in.

Sengupta never surfaced.

It took a full two minutes for a diver to put on his flippers and get into the water; in the meantime, others jumped in an attempt to find him. Despite their attempt to help, the diver could be heard on video urging others not to jump in.

Once he was recovered, it was too late. Sengupta died the next day.

"It's really tough to come to grips with the fact that nobody helped him when he needed it," Dan Gemp, Sengupta's longtime best friend, said. "Seeing that video is the most infuriating thing you can imagine."

Gemp's, Rosemary, said her Avi and her son knew exactly what he was getting into and had trained hard to complete the course.

"He took it seriously," she said. "He knew this wasn't a walk in the park."

Although injuries of varying degrees are not uncommon at these kinds of events, a Tough Mudder official says the vast majority of the hundreds of thousands of participants have done so safety.

Sengupta, in fact, has been the only person to die during a race, and there's still no overall governing body that oversees safety at events of this type.

By October's event, though, several changes had been put into place. Multiple divers appeared ready for action, four divers ringed the water tank and organizers slowed down the rate at which people could jump in.

"We worked through with our safety protocols," Tough Mudder COO Don Baxter said. "We're very confident with what we had in place and we're always improving."

Sengupta's family is contemplating a lawsuit against Tough Mudder, but his friends know it'll do nothing to bring him back.

"You carry a guy's casket out of a room filled with 700 people," Gemp said. "That is the saddest thing you can imagine."

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