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Michael Schumacher accident a 'rare event' in high-risk sport

By Matt Knight, CNN
December 30, 2013 -- Updated 1515 GMT (2315 HKT)
Michael Schumacher navigates a slalom course at the Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio in 2005. The seven-time Formula One world champion remains in a critical condition following a skiing accident in the French Alps on Sunday. The 44-year-old was reportedly wearing a helmet. Ski safety specialist Dr. Mike Langran says a helmet can never provide complete protection in all accident situations, but its use "will have substantially attenuated the injuries sustained." <!-- -->
</br> Michael Schumacher navigates a slalom course at the Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio in 2005. The seven-time Formula One world champion remains in a critical condition following a skiing accident in the French Alps on Sunday. The 44-year-old was reportedly wearing a helmet. Ski safety specialist Dr. Mike Langran says a helmet can never provide complete protection in all accident situations, but its use "will have substantially attenuated the injuries sustained."
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Seven-time F1 world champion's accident highlights perils of skiing
  • Serious accidents from recreational skiing are a rare event, says ski safety expert
  • Injuries are between 2-4 per 1,000 days on ski slopes, says Dr. Mike Langran
  • Langran recommends skiers and snowboarders always wear an appropriate helmet

(CNN) -- Michael Schumacher's serious skiing accident in the French Alps has once again put the spotlight on skiing safety.

The seven-time Formula One world champion remains in a critical condition after hitting his head on a rock at the Meribel resort in France on Sunday.

But according to Dr. Mike Langran, a Scottish doctor who specializes in ski safety, serious accidents like the one endured by the German are uncommon.

"Accidents of this nature are, thankfully, rare events amongst skiers and snowboarders, although of course they usually receive substantial media attention," Langran said in a statement on Monday.

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Langran, who was interviewed by CNN about skiing safety last January, said he was "deeply saddened and concerned" on hearing of Schumacher's accident and wished him a "speedy and complete recovery," but stressed that the risk of injury from snow sports remains low.

"As with any recreational activity however, it is impossible to completely remove all elements of risk when participating in snow sports," Langran said.

"The absolute risk of an injury whilst skiing or snowboarding recreationally remains very low, in the order of 2-4 injuries per 1,000 days spent on the slopes.

"The vast majority of people will ski or board all their lives without ever sustaining a significant injury."

Commenting in January on skiing injuries and fatalities, Langran insisted that winter sports have had a bad press when it comes to perceptions about safety.

Read more: World waits on Schumacher's fate

"For snow sports, the average injury rate is 2-3 per 1000 participants on any one day. Compare that to an average game of soccer or rugby where perhaps the same number, or more are injured out of a much smaller number of players," he told CNN.

Langran added that in the U.S. over the past 10 years, on average, about 41.5 people had died per year from skiing or snowboarding.

High profile skiing fatalities

January 2013: Claude Nobs

The 76-year-old founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival dies following a skiing accident on Christmas Eve 2012.

March 2009: Natasha Richardson

The British actress succumbs to a head injury suffered in a fall at the Mont Tremblant resort in Quebec, Canada.

January 1998: Sonny Bono

Former singer turned congressman dies after hitting a tree at Heavenly Ski Resort, South Lake Tahoe, California.

December 1997: Michael Kennedy

Son of late senator Robert F. Kennedy killed following collision with a tree in Aspen, Colarado







"The rate of fatality converts to 0.78 per million skier/snowboarder visits. Although it's not directly comparable, in the United States in 2009, 2,400 people drowned while swimming in public areas and 800 died while bicycle riding," Langran said.

Schumacher is being treated for his injuries at the University Hospital Center of Grenoble.

At a news conference on Monday, doctors said it was too early to say what the former F1 driver's prognosis might be.

Schumacher was in a coma when he arrived at the hospital and required immediate brain surgery, officials said. He has undergone one operation and is being kept in an induced coma, officials added.

The 44-year-old was reportedly wearing a helmet when he fell. Doctors at the Grenoble hospital said that without the helmet's protection, Schumacher wouldn't have made it to the operating table.

"I always recommend skiers and snowboarders to wear an appropriate helmet," said Langran.

"Whilst they can never provide complete protection in all accident situations, I have no doubt that his use of a helmet will have substantially attenuated the injuries sustained."

The FIS (the International Ski Federation) has recommended the use of helmets on the slopes since 2006, but their use remains voluntary.

Some travel insurance companies, however, now insist they are worn otherwise claims by injured skiers could be invalidated.

Read more: Danger on the slopes: Are winter sports safe?

Read more: Schumacher in critical condition after skiing accident

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