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Prince Johan Friso critically injured in avalanche

A day after he was buried by an avalanche in Austria, Dutch Prince Johan Friso remains in critical condition. Doctors deny that he suffered a fractured skull but are worried about the effects of prolonged asphyxia on the prince's brain. Johan Friso was taken to an intensive care unit in an Innsbruck hospital on Friday immediately after being found.

Rescue crews pulled the 43-year-old prince from under an avalanche that had buried him some 15 minutes earlier near the ski resort of Lech, the Dutch Government Information Service says. The prince was reanimated before being taken to hospital by helicopter.

News update, 18 Feb 08:00 UTC - At the Innsbruck hospital, Dr Claudius Thomé who is treating the prince told Dutch daily NRC Handelsblad that Johan Friso had a body temperature of 32 degrees Celsius when he was found. Contradicting earlier reports, Dr Thomé said that the prince was not suffering from a fractured skull. The main problem, he said, was that Prince Johan Friso had been cut off from oxygen under the snow for up to 20 minutes. He is being kept in a coma for the time being, a procedure that is standard in such cases. Brain scans which were made after the accident did not show anything unusual, Dr Thomé said. It is expected to take another 24 hours before doctors can establish whether the prince has suffered any brain damage. •

The avalanche occurred around noon near Litzen-Zugertobel, close to Lech, the resort where the Royal Family have spent many winter holidays since the 1950s. The accident happened while the prince was outside the piste, Lech Mayor Ludwig Muxel said. No one else has been reported missing.

Risk taker
Over the past few days the Austrian Alps have seen heavy snowfall, raising the risk of avalanches. As part of a daily routine, the local authorities had issued the second-highest out of five avalanche warning levels. The federal state of Tirol had launched an “urgent” advice to skiers not to stray outside the pistes. Since the accident occurred, skiing outside the pistes has been forbidden.

The prince did not have an avalanche safety device, comparable to airbags used in cars. But he did have a transceiver, which allowed the rescue services to locate him under the snow within minutes of their arrival at the scene. A friend who was skiing with the prince did have an avalanche safety device and was able to raise the alarm. Local media say the two were hit by an avalanche of 30 by 40 metres.

People familiar with the Royal Family describe the prince as an experienced skier but also as a risk taker who likes to ski off the pistes. Some years ago, he was detained driving a car at over 200 kilometres per hour.

Hospital sealed
His mother, Queen Beatrix, and his wife, Mabel Wisse Smit, are at his bedside. No other members of the Royal Family have been hurt. His two brothers, Crown-Prince Willem Alexander and Prince Constantijn, travelled to Austria later on Friday evening, along with their families.

The Innsbruck hospital where the prince is being treated has been sealed off and the media are being kept at a distance.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says the prince is being treated by the best doctors. He added that Austrian hospitals have extensive experience with ski and avalanche victims. The Dutch people, Mr Rutte said, sympathize with the prince and his family.

Dead gangster
Prince Johan Friso is the middle son of Queen Beatrix. His older brother is Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his younger brother is Prince Constantijn. Prince Johan Friso gave up his right to the Dutch throne in 2004 after marrying human rights activist Mabel Wisse Smit.

The government refused to endorse the marriage because the couple had given misleading information about the bride's previous relationship with a deceased gangster. Under Dutch law, royals aspiring to the throne must receive permission from the government and parliament to marry because the cabinet is officially responsible for their actions and statements.

The couple have two young daughters, Luana and Zaria.

(cl/rk)

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