Sarah Burke Dead at 29 After Half-Pipe Skiing Accident

Burke sustained "severe irreversible damage to her brain" after accident.

ByABC News
January 19, 2012, 4:09 PM

Jan. 19, 2011— -- Canadian freestyle skier Sarah Burke died today, nine days after sustaining injuries in an accident on a half-pipe course in Utah.

The 29-year-old Winter X Games champion and 2005 half-pipe world gold medalist suffered "severe irreversible damage to her brain due to lack of oxygen and blood after cardiac arrest," according to a statement from Burke's publicist.

"As the result of Sarah's fall, she suffered a ruptured vertebral artery, one of the four major arteries supplying blood to the brain. The rupture of this artery led to a severe intracranial hemorrhage, which caused Sarah to go into cardiac arrest on the scene," according to the statement. "While early reports in the media stated that Sarah's injury was a traumatic brain injury, it is important to note that Sarah's condition was the result of a lack of oxygen to the brain during cardiac arrest."

Although she underwent a successful operation to repair the torn artery, tests showed she suffered irreversible brain damage.

Burke's organs and tissues were donated in accordance with her wishes. She died surrounded by family and loved ones at the University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City at about 9:22 a.m., according to her publicist's statement.

"The family expresses their heartfelt gratitude for the international outpouring of support they have received from all the people Sarah touched," the statement said.

Burke, who was not only one of the best female skiers in the world but a red carpet regular and fashion plate who was once named one of FHM's 100 sexiest women alive, crashed after a faulty landing while on a private training run in the Eagle Superpipe at Park City Mountain Resort Jan. 10.

Burke's accident occurred on the same course where snowboarder and Olympic medalist Kevin Pearce suffered a traumatic brain injury in 2009.

Freestyle skiing is something of a daredevil sport, a sort of trick skiing that uses the half-pipe, which is normally used by snowboarders. Burke was training for the upcoming X Games in Aspen, Colo., where she was the defending champion and expected to win again.

Described as a pioneer in the sport, Burke was the first woman to land a 1080 (three full-body rotations) in competition, according to the Associated Press. She was performing a trick called a "flat spin 540" when she was injured.

She was also a favorite heading into the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, having lobbied to have women's skiing superpipe added to the lineup.

Burke, from Whistler, British Columbia, married fellow freestyle-skier Rory Bushfield in 2010.

While Bushfield and Burke's families have asked for privacy, a public celebration of the ski champ's life will be held in the coming weeks.

ABC News' Sabina Ghebremedhin contributed reporting.