Dutch prince seriously injured after being buried by avalanche in Austria

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

It was unclear how critical the condition of Prince Friso was. The Dutch government, which initially said his life was in danger later issued an update saying "his condition is stable but not out of danger." Stefan Jochum, a spokesman for the Lech ski area where the accident occurred, said Friso's condition was serious but his life was no longer at risk.

"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."

Jochum said the accident happened early Friday afternoon as the prince and three other skiers were on slopes away from the marked Lech ski runs and laden with snow after weeks of record falls.

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 on the scene 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 more than 30 yards by more than 40 yards when it hit him.

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, 43, was in Lech along with other members of the royal family. The second of Beatrix's three sons gave up any claim to the Dutch throne to marry Dutch commoner Mabel Wisse Smit, in 2004. The pair have two daughters, Emma and Joanna. He most recently 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."