Michael Kennedy skied headfirst into a tree while playing football with relatives - something the ski patrol had warned the family was too dangerous, a source said.
The 39-year-old son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy died of head injuries on New Year’s Eve as he and several relatives brought the well-known family pastime to the slopes of a Rocky Mountain resort.
“There was blood all over the snow,” Couri Hay, a New York City publicist on vacation, told the Daily News of New York. “Several of the Kennedys were on their knees saying the Lord’s Prayer.”
Kennedy died of head injuries at a hospital about 90 minutes later. The family was using a snow-packed water bottle as a football and he went out for a pass, caught the bottle and hit the tree, Hay said.
“They were just out having a fun time,” another skier, Scott Womack, told Denver television station KUSA. “They’d bump into each other but it wasn’t like hard … They were laughing.”
The accident occurred just before dusk as skiers were finishing their runs for the day. The snow was slick on the shadowy slope and the skiing fast at the Aspen Mountain resort.
The ski patrol, which works for the resort trying to keep skiers safe, began administering first aid within four minutes.
Michael Ferrara, medical coordinator for Aspen Mountain Ski Patrol, was the first to arrive at the scene, where 15 to 20 people were yelling for help as a male skier performed CPR on Kennedy.
The ski patrol placed a collar around Kennedy’s neck and immobilized him on a backboard. He was taken down the mountain on a toboggan as darkness fell.
On the way down, paramedics lost his pulse and began administering CPR again, Ferrara said.
“It wasn’t until we got him into the hospital that he regained his pulse,” he said.
Dr. William Rodman, who treated Kennedy at Aspen Valley Hospital, said toxicology tests were being done to determine whether alcohol played a role in the accident, a standard procedure.
A Roman Catholic priest went to the emergency room, apparently to administer last rites. The body was flown to Massachusetts on Thursday and was met on Cape Cod by family members, including Sen. Edward Kennedy.
The grieving clan gathered at their Hyannis Port compound, where an American flag flew at half-staff on New Year’s Day.
Kennedy’s mother, Ethel, was among the relatives vacationing in Aspen, where the family has been coming since at least 1962, when Robert F. Kennedy spoke here. It wasn’t clear whether she witnessed her son’s accident.
Kennedy had been recording the game on video, skiing and shooting at the same time, Hay said. They were on a slope for intermediate skiers called Copper Bowl.
A former resort employee who spoke on condition of anonymity said the Kennedys had been warned in the past by the ski patrol that football and skiing were a dangerous mix.
“They used to play football on the slopes. They’ve done it in the past. It’s a family tradition,” he said.