Multiple falls may have caused ski death – coroner

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Several falls over three days may have contributed to the death of an 80-year-old Japanese ski racer at Queenstown’s Coronet Peak. 

A newly-released report by coroner David Crerar into the August 2010 death of Saburo Ishikawa says the elderly skier had fallen several times in the days prior to a crash he had on the day of his death. 

Dunedin neurosurgeon Ahmad Taha told the coroner that Ishikawa died of “acute subdural haemotoma”. 

Coroner Crerar says: “Dr Taha speculates that one or more of the falls reported in the days preceding [the fatal fall] have led to smaller [brain] bleeds”. 

Brain bleeds can cause complications in older skiers such as Ishikawa, Crerar notes. 

Despite a heli-dash to Dunedin Hospital, Taha told Crerar that Ishikawa’s admission injury was “unsurvivable”. 

Ishikawa may have been elderly but Crerar says he was fit and in good health, joining a group of experienced ski racers on a four-week tour of New Zealand snowfields. 

Ishikawa was dressed in appropriate safety equipment and wore a quality helmet, the coroner says. 

Two days before the fatal fall, however, Ishikawa fell “a few times and he reported feeling dizzy”. 

The fatal fall itself was witnessed by the Japanese coach accompanying Ishikawa’s ski group – he described it as “just a fall and not hard”, Crerar notes. 

Clipping a race gate with his arm, the elderly ski racer fell face-first into the compacted snow, slightly grazing his chin. 

Crerar: “Saburo Ishikawa picked himself, and his skis, up and walked to the side of the course where he put on his skis and skied down to the base of the ski run, where he conversed for about two minutes with the ski coach and wandered around taking photographs before collapsing.”
 
Ishikawa then began vomiting “and showed signs of increasing unwellness”, the coroner adds. 

Neurosurgeon Taha stops short of recommending all skiers wear helmets although the specialist adds they are worth considering, Crerar reports. 

Taha advises people over 65 have a greater chance of dying from a brain injury and should be aware of the higher risk, Crerar adds. 

Despite a Department of Labour enquiry after Ishikawa’s fatal fall, Crerar makes no adverse finding against Coronet Peak operator NZ Ski.