Police investigations into the skiing accident that has left seven-time F1 world champion Michael Schumacher in a medically-induced coma have yet to determine exactly how fast the German was travelling at the time of his fall, but insist speed is not a key factor in their enquiry.

Schumacher was airlifted to hospital in Grenoble after straying off a marked piste, falling and hitting his head on rocks. He remains in a 'stable but critical' condition according to his manager but, despite showing unexpected signs of improvement following a second operation on New Year's Day, is still 'not out of danger'. Reports claim that the German's helmet, which undoubtedly saved his life, was cracked in the impact, which occurred as he and his party were making their way back to the French resort of Meribel.

Speaking at a specially-convened press conference, designed in part to counter the number of erroneous reports appearing daily, Albertville prosecutor Patrick Quincy confirmed that, while 'extremely legible' footage from Schumacher's helmet-mounted camera showed the accident in 'perfect clarity', it had been hard to determine exactly how fast the German was travelling at the time of the accident. Quincy confirmed that the two-minute film was currently being examined frame by frame in order to establish other factors involved in the incident, but had yet to yield any definite rate of descent, although he insisted that this was not necessarily the cause of the accident.

Quincy revealed that the footage from Schumacher's helmet camera had enable police investigators to exactly determine the path of the German's descent which, having come to an intersection of blue and red runs, opted to follow the slightly more difficult red option, before leaving the piste to its left-hand side.

Although it appears that the German tried to reduce his speed, the nature of the terrain made it difficult to do so, with police commander Stephane Bozon, who formed part of a three-man party on the dais, confirming that Schumacher needed to 'remain in line' in order to negotiate the slope. Both Bozon and Quincy underlined the skill which the German possessed as a skier, but reported that, once his ski had struck a rock, he lost balance and fell, hitting his head on other rocks, some eight metres from the edge of the marked piste. He came to rest a further metre away.

Despite reports to the contrary, the investigators claim that there is no proof that Schumacher had gone to the aid of a fallen skier, and Quincy also cast doubts on the existence of a second film, which German magazine Der Spiegel suggested showed Schumacher's accident happening in the background of family holiday footage.

Quincy subsequently confirmed that piste markers at the scene of the accident were in accordance with French standards, with Bozon emphasising that, even in bad weather, the edge of the run would have been visible. Schumacher's equipment was still being analysed, but there was no immediate concern that it may have played a part in the accident. The skis appeared to be in good working condition, with scratches on the underside consistent with having hit rocks.

Quincy revealed that, far from being a unique occurrence, Schumacher's accident was symptomatic of the 50 or so similar accidents that occur in the region ever season, and was being treated in the same way as any other. He stopped short, however, of absolving anyone of responsibility for the accident.

He had earlier opened the press conference by repeating calls for the media - which had to be accommodated in two rooms such was the interest - to respect the Schumacher family's privacy. There was no comment on the German's condition.



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