Geneva: Almost two months after a skiing accident caused him to be put into a medically-induced coma, Michael Schumacher’s friends are still at a loss to explain the life-changing consequences of the seemingly-innocuous accident.
Schumacher, an experienced skier, was travelling at a moderate speed when he fell and hit a rock. His skis were new; his bindings have been subsequently tested and were not at fault; he was fully in control of his movements as he left the marked pistes and traversed the patch of snow in-between two groomed runs in Meribel.
But now investigators believe that they may have found a reason for the seriousness of the crash. They think that his helmet camera could have actually worsened the blow, and caused the helmet to shatter into pieces.
Experts from ENSA, the world-renowned ski and climbing academy in the French ski resort of Chamonix, have conducted tests to determine whether the presence of a solid object between a helmet colliding with a rock would weaken the structure.
The helmet smashed — but the camera he had attached to it, in order to record him and his son skiing, was undamaged. The footage, audio and visual, has provided police with crucial information about the crash.
“The helmet completely broke. It was in at least two parts. ENSA analysed the piece of the helmet to check the material, and all was Okay,” said a source close to the investigation.
“But why did it explode on impact? Here the camera comes into question. The laboratory has been testing to see if the camera weakened the structure.”
Patrick Quincy, the prosecutor in charge of the investigation into the accident, will make an announcement on Monday. He is expected to clear the ski resort of any involvement and conclude that the manufacturers of Schumacher’s ski equipment were not liable.
An investigation into the crash, conducted by mountain police in Bourg-Saint-Maurice and gendarmes in Meribel and Albertville, was launched the following day – as is usual in France for accidents of such gravity.
Schumacher had been skiing on the piste with his son and family friends. But shortly after 11am he “deliberately” skied on to a patch of off-piste located in between two runs “with a number of dangers, notably rocks”, according to investigators. It was here, no more than 20 feet from the piste, that he struck a partially-covered rock and then catapulted on to another, crashing his head with such force that his helmet split in two.
Lawyers had argued that managers of the ski resort might face up to three years in prison because the dangers lurking within the off-piste section were not properly marked. The resort in response hired a top lawyer, Maurice Bodecher, who is a specialist in ski and criminal law and was until 2010 the head lawyer for the French Ski Federation.
But, presenting initial findings 10 days into the investigation, police chief Stephane Bozon said: “The piste markers conformed to the regulations. Unfortunately this off-piste area had a number of dangers, notably the rocks being only barely visible, covered with five to 10cm of snow because of the poor snow.”