Wednesday, December 19, 2001

Bailout turns into painful
wipeout atop Mauna Kea

By Rod Thompson

KAILUA-KONA >> A Big Island teenager is in stable condition at Queen's Hospital after smashing face-first into rocks at the summit of Mauna Kea while riding a body board on icy snow over the weekend.

Liz Royale, an 18-year-old student at Hawaii Explorations Academy, will need surgery to reconstruct her forehead, right cheek bone, and the bone around her right eye, said Joe Mackee, whose fiancee is the woman's sister.

Royale also suffered some injury to her brain, Mackee said, adding, "So far, all reports are she's going to be fine."

Mackee said he is publicizing Royale's accident because he wanted others to learn from it.

Snow enthusiasts took to Mauna Kea on Sunday after a storm dumped snow on higher elevations of the Big Island. Royale was watching others when she decided to try the body board herself, Mackee said.

Speeding down a slope face-first, she realized she was going too fast and tried to "bail out," Mackee said.

"She just kept going," he said. At one point she flew at least 10 feet off the ground, finally hitting some rocks, he said.

Ron Koehler, head of Mauna Kea Support Services, said a 3-foot by 4-foot sign warns summit visitors about dangers, including those from icy conditions.

"It's ice. It's not snow," he said. "You just slide. There's very little friction."

Snowboards and skis are designed with an edge that can cut into snow or ice and give some control, Koehler said, adding that body boards or inflated inner tubes provide no control at all.

"You build up too much speed and you don't know where you're going to go," he said.

Koehler said people like to launch off a ridge down into a bowl-like area, paying no attention to the rocks at the bottom, though it is safer to start a run from part way down the slope, not from the top.

Koehler said he remembers a young woman dying there under similar circumstances in the late 1970s.

Royale's surgery will be expensive. Contributions can be made to Friends of Liz Royale at any First Hawaiian Bank branch, Mackee said. They can also contact him at

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