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Going into the race, Van Vuuren was a young 19-year-old fan of Formula One who volunteered successfully to be a marshal at the South African GP for the first time.
On lap 22, Renzo Zorzi suffered an engine fire caused by a split pipe, and pulled off to the side of the track to retire the car. As the nearest marshals, Van Vuuran and his fellow fire marshal rushed across the track to extinguish the flames, while Hans-Joachim Stuck and Tom Pryce neared at high speed. Van Vuuren's colleague managed to get across the track safely while Stuck had to swerve to avoid Van Vuuren.
Pryce, however, was running close behind Stuck, and as a result, was unable to avoid slamming into Van Vuuren. Van Vuuren's fire extinguisher was let loose, flying into and fatally broke Pryce's skull, nearly decapitating the Welshman. Pryce's Shadow hurtled towards the bend, with the dead driver still inside, before taking the Ligier of Jacques Laffite out of the race. As for Van Vuuren, he was nearly cut in half in the collision, and was propelled a fair distance from where the incident directly happened. The injuries were so severe that his body was only identified after the race director had summoned all the marshals, finding that Van Vuuren was not among them.
Some blamed Zorzi for the accident, because it would have been safer had he pulled off into the pits to retire rather than stay out on track.
The deaths cast a huge shadow over the race, and there was no joy on the podium after the winner Niki Lauda was told of Pryce's death. The incident was partly recorded on film.