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Schumacher 'strayed into rock zone to help little girl'

F1 legend stable in coma after ops

02 January, 20:16
Schumacher 'strayed into rock zone to help little girl' (by Denis Greenan).

(ANSA) - Rome, January 2 - Formula One legend Michael Schumacher struck and seriously injured his head over the weekend while helping a little girl who had fallen while skiing, German daily Bild said Thursday. According to the paper's reconstruction from "exclusive" sources, the seven-time champion - five straight times with Italian glamour team Ferrari - was skiing at the back of a group of friends in the French Alps when the daughter of one fell. After skiing about 20 meters off piste to help her, Schumacher crashed into a snow-covered rock. "He wasn't going too fast," said the German driver's spokesperson. "It was a normal pace along a curve".

Prosecutors have opened a probe to establish whether the rocky area should have been marked, and if so, whether owners or managers of the runs might be placed under investigation for suspected negligence or culpability. Schumacher, who turns 45 Friday, has been in a coma since the accident and is under close medical watch after successive surgeries.

Schumacher is a fighter who will not give up in his battle for survival after the life-threatening crash, his family said, thanking well-wishers for their support.

"Following Michael's skiing accident, we would like to thank the people from all around the world who have expressed their sympathy and sent their best wishes for his recovery. "They are giving us great support. "We all know he is a fighter and will not give up," said the statement on the website of F1's most successful driver.

Those who have sent messages include virtually all the F1 drivers and former Ferrari champs like Niki Lauda who said Schumacher was in his prayers.

Former United States President Bill Clinton also said he was praying for the German speed king and thanked him for the millions he donated to his charitable and philanthropic foundation. Schumacher, whose accident took place near his chalet at Meribel, is in stable condition in a chemically induced coma after two brain operations Sunday and Monday.

He showed a "very slight" improvement after the second op but doctors cannot say if he will make it.

Ferrari fan clubs said they would celebrate Schumi's 45th birthday "in the manner he deserves".

A group of fans will be holding a silent march close to the Grenoble University Hospital Center where he is being treated. In addition, the Ferrari Internet site will dedicate a special feature to the German former racing driver, with a double wish for his birthday and a speedy recovery. The website will also host a photo gallery of the 72 Ferrari victories posted by Schumacher - part of his record 91 total win tally.