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Formula One racing champion Michael Schumacher is in critical condition after a ski accident in the French Alps. He fell and hit his head while skiing off the prepared trail.
As NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from the Alps, the German driver is considered a legend of motor racing.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Schumacher was on a family vacation in the French Alps. He was skiing with his 14-year-old son when he fell and his head struck a rock. Doctors say he was wearing a helmet, without it he would've died instantly. Schumacher was conscious after the accident, but he had slipped into a coma by the time he was airlifted to a hospital in the French town of Grenoble.
Jean Francois Payen is the neurosurgeon treating Schumacher.
JEAN FRANCOIS PAYEN: (Through Translator) We are working hour by hour. Right now, I can not give you any indication about which way it will go. His situation is extremely critical.
BEARDSLEY: Europeans love Formula One racing. It's sleek, low-lying, racecars are the epitome of speed and technology. And Schumacher was king of the sport.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The first win ever, for Michael Schumacher...
BEARDSLEY: He won a record seven world championships in Formula One before retiring last year at the age of 43. His accident has dominated news coverage across Europe. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is said to be deeply shocked by Schumacher's injury. But Schumacher' is not the only ski accident victim this year. In the last, week nine people, including a 15-year-old boy, have died in the Alps. Like Schumacher, they were all skiing off piste - that is, away from marked and groomed runs.
At an Alpine resort not far from where Schumacher fell, skiers were finishing up the day. Cedric Tournebis is also skiing with his son and wearing a helmet, but he's sticking to the authorized slopes. He says Schumacher's accident is tragic. But he hopes it will teach other skiers to stay on the piste.
CEDRIC TOURNEBIS: Because he's in good shape and he's very sportive. He can have an accident. He can be very hurt.
BEARDSLEY: Tournebis says it shows the excitement of skiing off piste is not worth the risk.
Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News in the French Alps.
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