Austria's leading far-right politician, Jörg Haider, had been at a late-night party and was driving at more than double the speed limit when his limousine left the road and somersaulted, killing him almost instantly.
Mr Haider, 58, whose fatal car accident early on Saturday morning has left Austria in a state of shock, was travelling near Klagenfurt in the southern province of Carinthia at 88mph (142kph) along a stretch of road which has a 42mph speed limit.
State prosecutors investigating the crash said his car, a three-month-old Volkswagen Phaeton V6, careered off the road after overtaking another vehicle and flipped several times, causing the populist leader massive injuries to his head and chest even though he was wearing a seatbelt.
An ambulance took Mr Haider to Klagenfurt hospital where he was pronounced dead on arrival. Ruling out foul play as a cause of death, Gottfried Kranz, the chief prosecutor, said: "Further speculation about other causes for the accident are invalid."
Mr Haider, who had been on his way to his mother's 90th birthday party, had been at a party at a night club less than a hour before the crash. State prosecutors declined to say whether they had found alcohol or traces of drugs in his blood.
Mr Haider's death came just weeks after the beginnings of his political rebirth. In last month's Austrian general election, the far right secured almost 30 per cent of the vote. Mr Haider's Alliance for Austria's Future (BZO) more than doubled its share of the vote, prompting speculation that he would return to the national political scene – possibly with a role in an eventual ruling coalition – after years spent in virtual exile as a provincial governor. "After Lazarus, my resurrection must be the most dramatic on record," he said afterwards.
However, Austrian commentators predicted yesterday that Mr Haider's sudden death would almost certainly encourage the country's two main parties, the socialists and conservatives, to join forces again and form another coalition, just months after their first partnership collapsed.
Mr Haider leapt on to the international stage when his first party – the Freedom Party – became a coalition member in the 1999 government. The party's overtly anti-immigrant stance and Mr Haider's praise for Adolf Hitler's employment policies prompted the European Union to impose sanctions against Austria, fearing that democracy was threatened. A service was held for Mr Haider at Klagenfurt's cathedral last night. Over the weekend Austria's politicians made only passing references to his politics. Heinz Fischer, the President, described his death as a "human tragedy". Mr Haider's successor as BZO's leader, Stefan Petzner, burst into tears on camera, declaring: "For us, this is the end of the world".Reuse content