IMOLA, Italy (AP) — When Ayrton Senna crashed into a concrete wall during the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix, a routine day of race coverage transformed into a marathon effort of wall-to-wall reporting for Associated Press writer Piero Valsecchi.
"I have to admit that I immediately understood it was going to be a heck of a day," the now-retired Valsecchi said ahead of Thursday's 20th anniversary of Senna's death. "It's egoistical to say but thoughts like those creep into your mind. And we had already had two tense days of accidents. It was an incredible sequence of events over those three days."
Another high-speed crash a day earlier had killed Austrian driver Roland Ratzenberger. And during practice two days earlier, the car of Rubens Barrichello went airborne, crashed against the barriers and flipped. The young Brazilian sustained a concussion and amnesia and called his survival a miracle.
At the start of Sunday's race, another crash injured four spectators. But none of those accidents prompted the impact of Senna's crash.
"Inside the press center there was immediate reaction, not just because of the accident, but because it was Senna, the three-time world champion," Valsecchi said. "He was the best-known driver.
"He was also a driver who was always available to speak with the media. If you asked him something he always responded. He may not have been the nicest driver but he understood what you wanted and gave you the response you needed for your job."
After Senna was extracted from his car, he was transported to a hospital in nearby Bologna and declared dead four hours later.
"You could tell that he wasn't moving when he was taken out of the car," Valsecchi said. "But obviously you couldn't report that he was dead yet.
"First there was an announcement that he was being treated in Bologna for serious injuries, then the announcement of his death was given hours later, I think it was about 7 p.m., by the organizers and an official from the FIA," Valsecchi said. "At that hour, most people had already left the track — fans, other drivers and teams."
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