POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jun 2, 2011
Eight-year-old Sophia DeLoria was returning from the end of a trail Tuesday afternoon when she was killed by a rockfall at Haleakala National Park in east Maui.
Before the hike, Sophia and her parents had spent the night in Hana with Sophia’s 21-year-old cousin, who was visiting from the mainland, said family friend Bob McDaniel.
On Tuesday, the group had hiked to the end of the 1.8-mile Pipiwai Trail and visited Waimoku Falls. They were heading back when the tragedy struck.
“This was in the final stage of their trip, the last hours of their holiday before they returned home,” McDaniel said. “They had finished their day at the pools and the waterfall and they were walking down a trail. They had packed up, put their shoes on, folded towels. They were leaving.”
He said on the hike back, Sophia’s parents heard rocks falling from above and looked up to see them coming down. By the time, they looked back down Sophia was already on the ground with multiple injuries and smaller rocks on top of her.
Francis DeLoria picked up his daughter and ran a half-mile down the trail before encountering a law enforcement officer. They fashioned a stretcher from bamboo when the trail got too steep but when they finally reached the road, Sophia had already died, McDaniel said.
According to a Maui police report, the incident happened about 12:40 p.m. and Sophia died at 1:56 p.m. at Hana Health clinic. The report said Sophia had been hit in the head. An autopsy will be performed today.
“She was the light of the neighborhood,” McDaniel said. “Beautiful, tanned, little Lahaina girl.”
Sophia just graduated from the second grade at King Kamehameha III Elementary in Lahaina and was a swimmer, ballet dancer and keyboardist.
Two weeks ago, she won a breaststroke competition in the 10-and-under category. Because of that, the swim coach planned to elevate her to the 10-and-over class, McDaniel said.
She shined in “The Nutcracker” during Christmas and attended a rehearsal last week for an upcoming performance with the Maui Academy of Performing Arts.
She was the only child of DeLoria, a local entertainer, and Susan DeLoria, a Realtor at Whalers Realty.
“She was gregarious, she was outgoing, she was champion of the hug team,” McDaniel said. “She’d run up and hug you every time she saw you, even if you were a stranger.”
Sophia’s parents were being comforted by visitors at their home yesterday.
“They’re looking for a time machine to go back in time, change the timing of their exit from the waterfalls, from the pools,” McDaniel said. “They’re still grieving over the incident and reliving it and wishing there was some way to make it different.”
Haleakala National Park officials closed Pipiwai Trail to investigate. Officials will decide whether to reopen it this morning, said park spokesman Nav Singh.
“Our hearts go out to the family during this difficult time,” Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum said in a statement.
Singh said Pipiwai Trail is a popular, maintained trail on the mauka side of Hana Highway in Kipahulu where about 550,000 visitors stop a year. But the area has natural dangers that can’t be fully prevented.
“There are always rockfalls at all the falls,” Singh said, adding that there are signs along the trail that warn of rockfalls and other hazards. “There’s always inherent risks.”
The trail ascends 800 feet in Oheo Gulch. It passes the 184-foot waterfall at Makahiku, winds through non-native bamboo and guava forests, and ends at the 400-foot Waimoku Falls.
Sophia was the second person to die in a rockfall at the national park in Kipahulu in a decade. Park Ranger Suzanne Roberts was killed by a boulder 3 feet in diameter that fell as she was trying to clear away another rockslide in 2004.