Formula One legend Michael Schumacher is in a critical condition in a coma after suffering head injuries in a skiing accident in France.
The French Mountain Gendarmerie said the seven-time world champion was wearing a helmet when he had a hard fall at the Meribel resort. He was first taken to a local hospital and later transferred to a hospital in the French city of Grenoble.
Initial reports said the 44-year-old's life was not in danger, however, French television station BFMTV and local paper Le Dauphine Libere have reported that his condition has deteriorated with sports daily L'Equipe reporting he suffered a brain haemorrhage.
Grenoble University Hospital released a statement saying that the former German champion suffered a "severe head injury with coma on arrival," and had undergone neurosurgery.
In an earlier email, Schumacher's manager Sabine Kehm said the retired driver was on a private skiing trip and ''fell on his head''.
''We ask for understanding that we cannot give running updates on his condition. He wore a helmet and was not alone,'' Kehm said.
She added that no one else was involved in the accident.
Schumacher was hurt seriously once before, in a motorcycling accident in February 2009 in Spain when he suffered neck and spine injuries. He recovered sufficiently from those injuries to make a comeback in F1.
There was some confusion as to exactly where Schumacher was when he fell. The Gendarmerie said he was at the junction of two trails, but Christophe Gernigon-Lecomte, the ski resort's director, said on French television that he was skiing off-piste.
Gernigon-Lecomte said Schumacher was ''rattled but conscious'' when he was taken off the slopes by a helicopter medevac.
Gernigon-Lecomte did not immediately return calls requesting comment.
Schumacher retired in 2006 after winning five straight titles with Ferrari following two earlier ones with Benetton. He came back to the sport in 2010 and drove for three seasons for Mercedes without much success before retiring again last year.
- AP, Sydney Morning Herald and Fairfax NZ