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Bono ski death called accidental


Autopsy being performed

January 6, 1998
Web posted at: 1:56 p.m. EST (1856 GMT)

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, California (CNN) -- Sonny Bono died from head and neck injuries when he accidentally hit a tree while skiing during a family outing, authorities said on Tuesday. An investigation was continuing and an autopsy was being performed on the body of the entertainer-turned-politician, who died Monday at age 62.

Bono, an avid skier, was reported missing by his wife, Mary Whitaker, about 4:30 p.m. Monday, about three hours after she last saw him, authorities said.

The body of the California congressman was found about two hours later by the ski patrol at the Heavenly Ski Resort on the Nevada-California state line, some 55 miles (88 km) southwest of Reno, Nevada. He had been coming to the resort for at least 20 years.

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'Struck a tree'

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The accident occurred on the upper portion of Orion Run, a trail for skiers of intermediate skill on the Nevada side of the mountain.

"He apparently was skiing down the Orion and struck a tree," Douglas County, Nevada, Sheriff Ron Pierini told reporters. He said Bono was pronounced dead at the scene.

"Mary was attending her two children. He just skied ahead of them. That's the last time she saw him," Pierini said at a news conference held at the ski resort. He said authorities knew of no witnesses to the accident. icon (133K/12 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

At the time, the condition of the slope was good and weather conditions were "ideal," said resort spokesman John Wagnon.

Pierini explains procedures when a missing person report is filed
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Wagnon explains the details of the search
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"The run is fairly wide-open ... tree-lined much like any ski resort," Wagnon said. Asked by a reporter if a skier would "have to go off the beaten path to hit a tree," Wagnon said, "Yes."

A Bono spokesman, Frank Cullen Jr., said Bono had skied into a wooded area just off the main trail. Such "tree skiing" is popular with expert skiers who like the fresh powder available off the beaten path.

The area of moderately dense trees is not officially out of bounds but is more hazardous.

Sonny and Cher
Sonny with wife Cher and their daughter Chastity on CBS in the early '70s   

The accident is being investigated by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office and the United States Forest Service.

Two years ago, Bono received a deep gash on his chin after he and another skier collided at the Big Bear Lake area east of Los Angeles. He ended up with 11 stitches.

Bono is survived by four children including two -- 6-year-old Chianna and 9-year-old Chesare -- from his marriage to Whitaker. He had one child with Cher -- Chastity, who is a lesbian activist. Bono also had one child, Christy, from another marriage.

His death came less than a week after Michael Kennedy, the 39-year-old son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, was killed in a similar accident in Aspen, Colorado.


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