Grenoble (France), Dec. 30: Seven-time Formula One world champion Michael Schumacher was fighting for his life today after suffering severe head injuries in a skiing accident Sunday morning in the French Alpine resort of Méribel.
“We can say that his condition is life-threatening,” Jean-Francois Payen, head anaesthetist at the hospital in the French city of Grenoble, said, adding that the 44-year-old retired motor-racing great was in a medically induced coma.
“For the moment we cannot say what Michael Schumacher’s future is. We are working round the clock — we are trying to win time.”
Initial reports yesterday had not suggested that Schumacher’s condition was so grave. Payen declined comment on reports that the German would have long-term brain damage even if he lives.
The most successful Formula One driver of all time slipped and slammed the right side of his head on a rock while skiing off-piste — away from prepared ski tracks — with his 14-year-old son near his home in Méribel.
“His helmet did of course protect him at least partly. Someone who had suffered a similar accident without a helmet would not have made it (to the hospital),” Payen said.
The area where Schumacher was skiing is part of a web of trails that slice down through a vast and, in parts, very steep snowfield. Although challenging, the snowfield is not extreme skiing: the runs are broad and neatly tended, and the un-groomed off-piste area in between is free of trees.
One theory is that Schumacher strayed from the main slopes by mistake. French police said he was at a junction between two marked runs, one red and the other blue, when he hit the rock.
“The rocks were partly or totally hidden by snow,” said public prosecutor Philippe Quincy, adding that Schumacher had likely been thrown off balance by one of them and his helmet had shattered. An inquiry has been ordered.
Authorities had warned against skiing off-piste because of the risk of avalanches. Six people have died in the French Alps since Christmas.
Schumacher was initially conscious — with “movements from his four limbs but not answering questions” — when flown to the Grenoble hospital but his condition deteriorated sharply.
An emergency brain scan has revealed internal bleeding and injuries, including bruises and lesions, doctors said. Payen said Schumacher had undergone one emergency brain surgery.
Gerard Saillant, a brain and spinal injury expert and president of auto-racing world body FIA, flew into Grenoble saying he had come as “a friend”. He said Schumacher’s prime physical condition could help him survive.
He said the driver’s wife Corinna and their two children, who are at the hospital, were “worried like a wife, worried like children”.