Avalanche in Austria buries son of Queen Beatrix

VIENNA, Austria — An avalanche buried and seriously injured the second son of Dutch Queen Beatrix while he skied off marked trails Friday in the westernmost corner of Austria and he was rushed to the intensive care unit of an Innsbruck hospital, officials said.

The Dutch government, which initially said 43-year-old Johan Friso’s life was in danger later issued an update saying “his condition is stable but not out of danger.”

“Her Majesty the Queen and (Friso’s wife) Princess Mabel are with Prince Friso,” the Dutch statement said, adding that “doctors treating him will only be able to give a prognosis in a matter of days.”

Stefan Jochum, a spokesman for the municipality of Lech and its ski regions, said the accident happened early Friday afternoon as the prince was on slopes away from the marked Lech ski runs and laden with snow after weeks of record falls. He said the prince was accompanied by three other skiers. Other officials said only one other person was with Friso.

The Lech municipal office said a regional avalanche warning issued for the day was four on the five-point scale, meaning the danger was high.

“A snow slide came down and the prince was buried as the only member of the group” said Jochum in a telephone interview. A rescue helicopter was on the scene within minutes and after Friso was located, he was resuscitated and flown to the hospital, Jochum said.

The Austria Press Agency cited Lech Mayor Ludwig Muxel as saying Friso was buried for about 20 minutes by a snow mass that measured around 30 meters (more than 30 yards) by 40 meters (more than 40 yards) when it hit him.

Spokeswoman Pia Herbst of the Lech region tourist authority said rescuers found Friso through signals of an avalanche transceiver on his body.

Dutch national broadcaster NOS broke into its regular programming to give the story rolling minute-to-minute coverage as the news broke, speaking to medical experts and avalanche specialists.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, in comments carried by NOS radio, said he had told the queen and the prince’s wife that “the whole Dutch people sympathizes with them very intensely.”

“The situation is that the prince is stable, but his life not yet out of danger, and (in) the coming days, the expectation is that further prognoses will follow.”

“There’s nothing more (to say) than that the best doctors are there,” he said. “Austria naturally has very good medical care, we are fully confident in them — but further we really just have to wait.”

Friso’s two brothers, heir to the throne Willem-Alexander and Prince Constantijn, were traveling to Austria with their families Friday evening, NOS reported.

Online polls done around the April 30 Queen’s Day national holiday reflect a high degree of affection for the royals. The last one in 2011 showed that three-quarters of 547 respondents were happy with the queen.

Friso was in Lech along with other members of the royal family, whose members ski regularly there. The upscale resort area has also been a popular winter holiday destination for Tom Cruise, the late Princess Diana and other celebrities.

The second of Beatrix’s three sons, Friso gave up any claim to the Dutch throne to marry Dutch commoner Mabel Wisse Smit, in 2004. The pair has two daughters, Luana and Zaria. He most recently worked as financial director at Urenco, the European uranium-enrichment consortium.

Most recently Friso has worked as financial director at Urenco, the European uranium-enrichment consortium.

The crucial moment in his life as a member of the Dutch nobility came with his 2003 engagement to then-commoner Wisse Smit.

After the pair announced their intention to marry in 2003, Dutch media revealed that Wisse Smit’s previous friendships included contacts while she was in college with a well-known figure in the Dutch underworld, a drug dealer who was later slain.

The couple publicly acknowledged having been “naive and incomplete” during her vetting process before joining the royal family. Then-Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende signaled he could not recommend the marriage to parliament for approval.

They married anyway, a decision that meant Friso’s removal from the line of succession.

The couple are still part of Beatrix’s family and attend important royal functions. Mabel has been granted the title “Princess Mabel” and Friso has an array of noble titles, including “Prince of Oranje-Nassau” — but not “Prince of the Netherlands.”

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