Running of the Bulls Deaths

Runners from the world over come to Pamplona every July to participate in the Running of the Bulls, made famous by Hemingway’s masterpiece The Sun Also Rises. Each day, July 7th-14th, some 2,000 people take the cobbled streets with fighting bulls to literally run for their lives on an 875-meter charge. According to Pamplona officials, hundreds of runners are injured annually during this dangerous event. Many suffer minor scrapes and grazes, while others need emergency medical treatment for life-threatening injuries. Pamplona bull run deaths are rare, but since 1910 when record-keeping began, 16 people have died.

Gorings cause most Pamplona bull run fatalities

Gorings – some of them gruesome – account for the majority of bull run fatalities. The second most common cause of death for runners is being struck by horns, which often leads to massive head and brain injury.  Besides dodging the fearsome heft and sharp horns of half-ton bulls, runners also face another formidable threat: the risk of a pile-up. At the 1977 San Fermin Fiesta, Jose Joaquin Esparza of Navarra, Spain fell at the entrance of the bullring, a notoriously dangerous spot that is narrow and easily blocked. Underneath a heap of other runners, Esparza died of suffocation.

History of Running of the Bulls deaths

Of the 16 runners who have lost their lives at the Running of the Bulls, 14 of them hailed from Spain. All but a couple of these men lived in the local Navarra region. Women have participated in the bull runs since 1974 (when new regulations were passed), but all fatalities have been men.

The most recent death at the Pamplona bull run was in 2009. Daniel Jimeno Romero, then 27 years old, was fatally gored by a bull near the Telefonica building on the fourth day of the festival.

The history of the Running of the Bulls demonstrates that the first morning’s bull run is the most dangerous, logging the highest number of injuries and deaths over the years. According to Pamplona records, Cebada Gago bulls have gored more runners and caused more injuries than any other breed since 1985.

In both 1947 and 1980, two runners were killed during the bull run, making these the deadliest years on record to date.

Perhaps the most high-profile bull run death took place in 1995, and garnered widespread coverage across Europe and the Americas. The victim was Matthew Peter Tassio, a 22-year-old Illinois native, who was backpacking his way across Europe and made a pitstop in Pamplona for the event. According to witnesses, Tassio was felled by a steer running with the fighting bulls, and as he got up was charged and gored by a fighting bull.

High-profile goring fatality in 1995

An eyewitness to Tassio’s goring described the savagery in a BBC news article. The bull’s horn jabbed Tassio in the stomach, sliced through a kidney, punctured his liver and severed a main artery. The bull then tossed the young man some 23 feet in the air.

The graphic nature of Tassio’s death combined with the fact that he was the first American to be killed during the San Fermin bull runs spurred a global dialogue about the importance of bull runner safety.

It later came to light that the young Illinois man was horribly ill-prepared to run with the bulls. He arrived that morning on an overnight train, had received no advice from locals on bull run strategies which could have saved his life. He ultimately broke the cardinal rule followed by all runners: if you fall down, stay down.

When you get back up you attract more attention and are a prime target for wayward horns. And if you’re already hurt, you are more vulnerable to life-threatening harm. This 2013 bull run goring video clearly shows the inherent risks of standing up again.

There is plenty of shocking TV footage and videos of runners being gored, trampled, hoisted in the air and smashed against walls. Even the most well-informed and experienced runners can succumb to injury during the Pamplona bull run. More than 200 medical professionals and dozens of ambulances are stationed close to the route each day, ready to treat the injured and rush them to the hospital. Pamplona bull run fatalities may be infrequent, but serious injuries are a yearly occurrence.

Additional Resources on Pamplona Bull Run Fatalities:

  1. BBC News, Pamplona San Fermín festival bull running injures five https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-44751093
  2. Express UK, Pamplona bull run horror: Three gored by beast including one horned https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/825826/Pamplona-bull-run-injuries-two-gored-San-Fermines-festival
  3. BBC News, The last person killed at Pamplona http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/4679751.stm