Freeskier Sarah Burke passed away at 9:22 a.m. Thursday, (Jan. 19) at the University of Utah Hospital, almost nine days after sustaining a head injury during a halfpipe training run at Park City.
Burke, 29, is an X Games champion and member of the Canadian Freestyle Ski Team who was favoured to win the women's ski halfpipe event when that sport debuts at the 2014 Games in Sochi.
According to reports, she went into cardiac arrest after her crash and was resuscitated onsite by ski patrol, who quickly transported her by helicopter to a hospital in Salt Lake City. She successfully underwent surgery at the University of Utah Hospital the next day to repair a ruptured vertebral artery, but never regained consciousness. Her family, parents Jan and Gordon and husband Rory Bushfield, who she resided with in Squamish, were at her side within 24 hours of the accident.
A press conference on her condition was scheduled for Jan. 16, but cancelled after the results of diagnostic scans. It was released Thursday that the scans showed irreversible brain damage due to the lack of oxygen and blood after her cardiac arrest.
According to a release for the Canadian Freestyle Ski Association (CFSA), the death was the result of the cardiac arrest rather than damage from the head injury.
CFSA CEO Peter Judge spoke at a conference call on Thursday afternoon.
"It's with great sadness that we at (CFSA) learned of Sarah's passing earlier this morning," he said. "Certainly our hearts go out to Rory, her husband, and to her family, and to her coach Trennon Paynter who was with her much of her time in sports. It's certainly a very difficult time for them."
Judge said that the CFSA will be supporting Burke's teammates - some of whom were at the Dew Tour event at Killington, Vermont, or training for the Winter X Games the following weekend - using resources such as sport and clinical psychologists. They also made those resources available to Burke's family members.
When asked to describe Burke, Judge used words like "outgoing" and "gregarious."
"She was someone who certainly saw her place in the world and what she was doing as a gift, and something she truly loved doing - and that went all the way through everything she did, whether she was on hill competing, or being involved in coaches and camps and working with young people. Or when she was off doing philanthropic things, like working with charities and giving back."
Judge said there was still a lot of disbelief that Burke could have been injured fatally in the accident. She had just landed a flatspin 540, a trick that she had been doing for almost a decade and was one of the easier tricks in her repertoire, and fell over onto her head. Athletes who saw it said it didn't look like anything major, and were surprised when she didn't pop up immediately.