10/23/2012

Prince Friso's friend cleared in avalanche tragedy

Prince friso
The Netherlands' Prince Friso is seen here with his wife Princess Mabel and their daughters Luana and Zaria in the Austrian skiing resort of Lech in 2011. He suffered massive brain damage after being buried by an avalanche in February and there's little hope he'll regain consciousness. (AP)

The tragic tale of Dutch Prince Johan Friso, buried in an avalanche last Feb. 17, was brought back into the news this week when the friend he was skiing with was cleared of negligent assault.

The Austrian hotel owner was skiing with the prince at the resort of Lech when the pair took off away from the marked ski run, despite avalanche warnings.

They were overtaken by the snow slide and Friso was buried under a 30x40-metre snow mass for 15 to 20 minutes. The hotelier survived thanks to an avalanche airbag that inflates to keep the skier from being buried. The Austrian Times reported the Prince was not wearing one.

Rescuers estimate Prince Friso's heart had been stopped for about 20 minutes by the time they revived him, leaving him with extensive brain damage. The 44-year-old father of two remains in a coma at London's Wellington Hospital. It was reported last month that he briefly awakened and smiled at his wife, Princess Mabel, then slipped back into the coma.

Prosecutor Heinz Rusch cleared the prince's friend of any wrongdoing in the ski accident, saying there was no evidence he had enticed Friso to ski the dangerous route.

"The 42-year-old Austrian and also the Prince were experienced skiers and both would have known that travelling in areas which were below regions of heavy snow and off piste had a risk of avalanche and of being buried," Rusch said.

Doctors have offered little hope that Prince Friso's condition will improve.

Prince Friso gave up his right to the Dutch throne when he married Mabel Wisse Smit in 2004, though the couple kept their royal titles. They have two daughters, Luana and Zaria.

The prince has a degree in mechanical engineering and had been working in London for URENCO, a uranium enrichment company, as chief financial officer.

The mayor of Lech, Ludwig Muxel, said that despite the accident, the resort town's long association with the Dutch royal family remains strong.

"I would say it is even stronger now," he told the Austrian Times.

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