Updated: Saturday, 04 January 2014 21:16 | By Agence France-Presse

Schumacher still 'critical' as probe focuses on helmet camera

Michael Schumacher remains in a "critical but stable" condition, his spokeswoman said on Saturday, as French investigators hoped a helmet-mounted camera he was wearing at the moment of his ski accident could answer a raft of questions.


Schumacher still 'critical' as probe focuses on helmet camera

German Formula One driver Michael Schumacher is pictured at the end of Brazil's F1 Grand Prix in Sao Paulo on November 25, 2012

A spokeswoman for the retired Formula One chmapion denied some reports that his family had been reluctant to hand over the camera -- taken by authorities on Friday -- because of privacy reasons.

"Michael's helmet camera was voluntarily given to the investigating authorities by the family," said spokewoman Sabine Kehm in a statement. "That this should have been done against the wishes of the family is untrue."

The existence of the GoPro camera was publicly revealed late Friday, five days after the December 29 accident in the French Alps near the Meribel ski resort.

It had been known since Tuesday that the seven-time world racing champion hit his head on a rock so hard that his helmet was split in two.

It was not known whether the camera filmed the champion's descent down the slope or whether the images have been damaged by the impact on the rock.

Police on Friday questioned Schumacher's 14-year-old son Mick, who was skiing with his father at the time, as well as a friend, at the Grenoble hospital.

Kehm said Schumacher remains in "critical but stable" condition and that no more press conferences were scheduled before Monday.

Schumacher turned 45 on Friday while still in an induced coma.

Fans marked the birthday with a silent vigil outside the facility, part of which was organised by Ferrari, Schumacher's former team.

Camera could reveal speed

The GoPro miniature camera, robust and popular among extreme sports enthusiasts, has a 170-degree wide angle lens that takes in much of the view and can show parts of the user's body including the face depending on how it is mounted.

The latest models can take up to 30 images a second for six hours.

If there are images and they are usable, they should shed light on the circumstances of the accident on a small, seemingly innocuous off-piste section of Meribel located between two ski slopes -- one classed as easy and the other as intermediate.

Conflicting statements have emerged, notably about how fast Schumacher was going when he crashed. 

Investigators are tasked with determining responsibility in the accident, with high stakes possibly involved regarding any insurance compensation.

Albertville prosecutors and the ski resort say Schumacher was skiing at great speed. Kehm has challenged that, saying he could not have been going fast "because it appears he helped a friend who had just fallen".

Prosecutors are also looking at whether the limits of the pistes next to the accident site were correctly marked, and whether the safety releases on Schumacher's skis operated properly. 

"I don't think it's normal that between two marked slopes there would be this passage with rocks showing that is not fenced off," said Philippe Streiff, a former French racing driver, in the French sports daily L'Equipe.

A paraplegic since an accident in Rio de Janeiro, Streiff visited the Grenoble hospital on Friday to hand a message to Schumacher's wife Corinna. Other family members at his bedside include his two teenage children, his father Rolf and brother Ralph, who is also a racing driver.

Although Schumacher was conscious when airlifted from the unmarked run in the Meribel resort, where he owns a property, he was agitated and soon fell into a coma, prompting his transfer to the Grenoble hospital.

He has undergone two operations to remove blood and pressure from his brain.

On Saturday Kehm said any information on Schumacher's condition "not coming from the doctors treating him or from his management must be treated as invalid and pure speculation".

The accident has shocked legions of fans used to seeing Schumacher cheat death on the race track.

Ferrari, which brought in fans to Grenoble on Friday from Italy and elsewhere in France on board two buses, put a message on its website, saying "Forza Michael," or "Go Michael" in Italian.

"He is tackling the most important fight of his life and therefore we want to send him very special wishes," said Schumacher's old team as similar messages poured in from around the world. 

German former tennis ace Boris Becker wished his compatriot "Happy Birthday" on Twitter, adding "Fight Schumi" in a German hashtag.

The family responded in a statement on Friday by saying "the incredible sympathies shown today by the Ferrari fans outside the hospital has utterly overwhelmed us and moved us all to tears".

"We are deeply grateful for it and also for all the heartwarming and heartfelt wishes for Michael to get well soon, which have reached us from all over the world."

However, the Ferrari tribute created controversy, with some accusing the Italian racing giant -- which asked fans to sport its trademark colour red and its insignia -- of bad taste.

Schumacher, who made his debut in 1991, dominated Formula One during his career, winning more world titles and races than any other driver. He retired in 2012.

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