People flooded social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube after the fatal crash of an Olympic luger yesterday, eager to read the latest, and quickest, details of the horrific accident.

Video of Nodar Kumaritashvili's crash was posted on YouTube almost immediately, and there were more than a dozen clips of it by late afternoon.

The crash was the top hot topic on Google Trends at one point, and the Georgian athlete dominated the "hot searches" list. His name was a trending topic on Twitter.

"People want the news as it happens in real time," said Sree Sreenivasan, a professor of journalism at Columbia. "The idea of waiting until the authority does a story is still important, but not as important as it used to be."

Kumaritashvili lost control of his sled during training yesterday, flew over the track wall and slammed into a steel pole near the finish line at Whistler Sliding Centre. The 21-year-old later died at a hospital, the International Olympic Committee said.

North American television networks did not break into their programmes to announce the crash or Kumaritashvili's death, although MSNBC did have live coverage of IOC president Jacques Rogge's tearful news conference.

"Appointment media has given way to perpetual news updates," said Lee Rainie, director of Pew Research Centre's internet and American Life Project. "There's a sense that news is a continual thing now."

Videos of the crash were on YouTube before Kumaritashvili's death was announced about 90 minutes later.

The story generated great interest on the AP's Facebook sites and its Winter Olympic web page. A story about the crash on the Vancouver Sun's website prompted more than 200 comments, many debating the appropriateness of photos showing the athlete airborne.

Kumaritashvili wasn't a star athlete.

He was 44th in the World Cup standings after five races this year.

But as news of his death spread, athletes on Twitter were expressing shock and horror that one of their own had died.

- AP