Tragedy Strikes Again

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Michael set off down the mountain with the camera and the small, soft plastic football. The run was about 150 ft. wide at the top and well-groomed but quickly narrowed as the trees closed in on either side. After the first goal Michael handed the camera off to a friend. "He skis off, he turns around to get a pass, he slams into a tree head first, he falls down unconscious," reports Hay, who says he was a few feet away. He heard someone say into a walkie-talkie, "Max, Max, it's an emergency! Ski patrol, ski patrol, it's an emergency!" A friend groped for a pulse. The children yelled, "It's my father! Please help my daddy!"

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It was sister Rory who stayed calm and went to work. She was the baby of the family. After Robert Kennedy was killed in 1968, Ethel asked each of her older children to act as a sort of guardian angel over a younger one: Michael was assigned Rory, born six months after their father died, and they spoke almost daily. Rory began giving mouth-to-mouth and then started pounding on her brother's chest, counting off "One. Two. Three. Four."

"Michael, now is the time to fight," she said. "Don't leave us." Someone felt a faint pulse. Rory turned him on his side, so he wouldn't choke as he started breathing again; she wiped her face with snow, then spit out the blood in her mouth. Michael's children knelt, crossed themselves and prayed, "Our Father, who art in heaven..." As paramedics worked, Rory gathered the children up and told them to think good thoughts.

"When I arrived there, there were 15 or 20 people screaming for help," said Michael Ferrara, a senior paramedic and the first member of the ski patrol to reach Kennedy. "Very quickly we realized there was one very injured man." He took over the CPR and helped fit Kennedy with a cervical collar. The ski patrol brought him down the mountain on a toboggan, covered in a yellow blanket. The Rev. Lawrence Solan administered last rites at Aspen Valley hospital and presided over communion for 15 family members. Kennedy was pronounced dead at 5:50 p.m.; the official cause of death was "massive head and neck trauma," and deputy coroner Tom Walsh found no trace of drugs or alcohol in the body. Michael's estranged wife Victoria was spending the holiday in Vail with her father, sportscaster Frank Gifford, and she arrived to take the children.

Michael's body was flown home on Kevin Costner's jet to the family compound in Hyannis Port, Mass., where weddings and triumphs are traditionally celebrated, and disgraces and tragedies escaped. The family draped the porch in blankets for privacy, as the flag once again was shimmied halfway down a flagpole and prying lights and cameras collected around the compound. Kennedys, Cuomos, Schwarzeneggers, Shrivers and Lawfords arrived to pay their respects. As night fell over Holyhood Cemetery in Brookline, the gates were locked, but the Kennedy family headstone was lighted by the workers' spotlights as they prepared to dig yet another grave.

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