A race car went out of control on a rural Irish road and crashed into a crowd of about 30 spectators Sunday, killing two people and seriously injuring seven, authorities said.

Witnesses said the car crashed through a fence and into the onlookers before coming to rest on its side beside a home near Bailieborough, 80 kilometres northwest of Dublin.

Police said two people, a 29-year-old woman from Cork, southwest Ireland, and a 50-year-old male photographer from the western city of Galway were declared dead at the scene. Seven others, including the car’s driver and navigational co-driver, were hospitalised with unspecified injuries.

Sunday’s accident highlighted the dangers posed to drivers and viewers alike by Ireland’s annual high-speed contests on hedge-lined, narrow country roads. At least four other people have been killed during races over the past decade as hundreds of kilometres of unmodified local roads are blocked off for use by rally cars.

Organisers of the Cavan Stages Rally involving about 100 cars in the border county of Cavan cancelled the event following the accident. Police and the race organiser, Motorsports Ireland, both launched investigations into what went wrong.

Police Superintendent Gerry O’Brien said it was too early to say whether a mechanical failure or driver error caused the accident. He said the car, a modified Ford Escort, “went over a hump in the road, it went midair, and when it landed it appears it lost control and drove into spectators, a group of 30-odd people.”

One witness, Matthew McMahon, described the chaotic aftermath.

“I heard people screaming ‘Red flag, red flag, stop the stage!’ Then all hell broke loose basically. There were people crying, people white as ghosts,” he told Irish state radio RTE.

Stage rallying is the most popular form of road racing in Ireland. About 30 competitions are staged annually on country roads, with each racer taking their turn on the makeshift course. Spectators frequently sit within a few metres of the roadway as drivers, guided by co-drivers with maps shouting out speed and turning guidance, roar past in hopes of scoring the best time.

Among those killed since 2002, all in racing in the northwest county of Donegal, were two crowd stewards, a co-driver and an 18-year-old fan struck as he tried to walk across the road.

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