Dutch Prince Struck by Avalanche: May Not Regain Consciousness

Doctors say a Dutch prince hit by an avalanche on vacation last week has suffered massive brain damage, and may never regain consciousness. Johan Friso, Dutch Queen Beatrix's second son, was skiing off trail in Austria last weekend when he was buried under an avalanche.

It took rescuers 25 minutes to locate him under the snow, and another 50 minutes to rescue him, in which time doctors say permanent damage may have been done.

"It is clear that the oxygen starvation has caused massive brain damage to the patient," said Dr. Wolfgang Koller, head of trauma at the Innsbruck hospital where he is being treated. "At the moment, it cannot be predicted if he will ever regain consciousness."

Koller said he may never wake up from his coma, and if he ever does it could take him years, and then years more to recover.

Despite current avalanche warnings, Friso and his childhood friend were skiing off trail in Lech, Austria, where the Dutch royal family has been vacationing for years. Unlike his friend, Friso was not carrying an avalanche air bag which allowed his friend, not him, to escape unharmed.

Rescuers managed to locate him from the signaling device he was skiing with, though it still took them a significant time to rescue him.

"50 minutes of reanimation is extremely long. You could say too long," Koller said.

His doctor said that brain damage minimizing protocols prevented them from conducting an MRI scan on Koller's brain until Thursday. "We had hoped that the slight cooling of the patient would protect his brain from too serious damage. Unfortunately this hope was not fulfilled," he said.

In a press statement released Friday, the royal family requested the media to respect their privacy. In the statement they said they need their "space to learn how to deal with Prince Friso's health situation and to adjust their lives to it."