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Actress' death stirs debate overski helmets

THE death of British actress Natasha Richardson from a severe brain injury following a skiing accident has reignited the debate over ski helmets.

Richardson, 45, a member of Britain's Redgrave acting dynasty, fell during a private skiing lesson on a beginners' slope at Canada's Mont Tremblant resort on Monday.

She died in New York on Wednesday, surrounded by her family, including husband Liam Neeson.

Her death came about 10 years after singer-turned-politician Sonny Bono and Michael L. Kennedy, son of assassinated former United States Robert F. Kennedy, died after skiing into trees at high speed and not wearing a helmet.

Richardson was reportedly not wearing a helmet.

Helmets, once rarely seen on skiers or snowboarders, have become increasingly popular but the jury remains divided on their effectiveness and whether their use should be compulsory.

Some medical groups, including the Association of Quebec Emergency Room Doctors, have called for helmets to be mandatory, claiming 60 percent of head traumas could be avoided, and some countries are making helmets compulsory for children.

The US National Ski Areas Association estimated 43 percent of skiers and snowboarders wore helmets in the 2007/08 season against 25 percent five years ago.

The NSAA urges skiers and riders to wear a helmet but stresses that people's behavior on the slopes counts most.

It cited researcher Jason Shealy, who studies ski-related injuries and found recent research indicated helmets cut the incidence of any head injuries by 30 to 50 percent but these were the minor injuries, and wearing helmets had not cut fatalities.


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