KLOSTERS, SWITZERLAND, MARCH 10 -- Britain's Prince Charles narrowly escaped an avalanche today while skiing at a posh resort, then helped dig out a friend who was buried and killed by the wall of snow, officials said. Another member of the royal party was injured.
The dead man was identified as Maj. Hugh Lindsay, 34, a former equerry, or aide, to Charles' mother Queen Elizabeth II. A woman in the party, Patricia Palmer-Tomkinson, suffered two broken legs, Buckingham Palace said.
Charles, 39, who is first in the line of succession to the British throne, was not injured, but witnesses said he looked distraught. One said he was weeping and shaking as a helicopter arrived to pick him up. A French photographer told BBC radio he saw Charles being comforted by someone as a helicopter took off with a stretcher.
Charles later issued a statement through the palace that said, "The Prince of Wales and the whole party are naturally extremely distressed by this tragic accident which resulted in the death of their close friend ... and the serious injury to Patti Palmer-Tomkinson.
"His Royal Highness wishes to express his deepest gratitude to the Swiss authorities for their rapid assistance, particularly to Bruno Streehr, who was skiing at the time as a guest of His Royal Highness, for his invaluable help at the scene of the accident."
Lindsay was a serving army major and a friend of Charles and his wife Diana. He was married to a Buckingham Palace press secretary who is expecting a baby, the palace said.
Also in the skiing party were Palmer-Tomkinson's husband Charles, as well as a Swiss guide and a Swiss policeman, the palace said. Prince Charles and Diana attended the Palmer-Tomkinsons' wedding last year.
The Klosters tourist office said Charles crossed the slope safely before it was swept by the avalanche. An accomplished skier, he had to take "avoiding action" to escape the avalanche, the palace said.
"They were ... not on a prepared marked trail," a tourist office spokesman said.
The palace said the party was stationary when the avalanche began at 2:45 p.m. A Swiss official said it struck Gotschnagrat mountain near Klosters.
Diana and Charles' sister-in-law Sarah, the duchess of York, who is pregnant, were not on the slopes at the time, the palace said. The royals arrived in Switzerland on Tuesday, and on Wednesday, when they posed for photographers at Klosters, Diana took a much-recorded spill on the slopes. Sarah has been widely criticized for refusing to give up skiing while pregnant. Late today it was reported they would return home on Friday.
Today's incident took place on one the most dangerous slopes at Klosters; one skiing guide describes the Wang run as "a slope of awesome steepness, dropping about 500 meters." The palace said it was entirely in character for Prince Charles to be skiing on such a difficult run.
"The prince has often been slightly hurt while playing polo. You obviously do get hurt from time to time if you play these sorts of sports," a palace spokesman told Reuters.
"If you go skiing, avalanches sometimes happen and sometimes people are hurt," she said.
A qualified pilot, polo player and crack shot, the prince has been a sportsman and an adventurer all his life.
In 1970 he came within three seconds of crashing the lightweight plane he was piloting into another small plane over southern England. And on one of his first parachute jumps, the prince's feet were caught in the parachute rigging and he tumbled upside down for several thousand feet through the skies over the Dorset coast before landing in the sea. After being rescued by the Royal Marines, he commented that it was a "rather hairy" experience.
The queen and Prince Philip were informed of the avalanche at an official engagement at a tennis exhibition in London and took the news calmly, the palace said. They carried on with the engagement after learning that none of the royal family had been hurt.
Switzerland's avalanche center in Davos, which is a larger resort next to Klosters, has been issuing avalanche warnings for the past 10 days because of heavy snowfalls.
Four Polish climbers were buried in another avalanche in Switzerland today on the infamous Eiger North Wall, above the central Swiss resorts of Grindelwald and Wengen.