NEWRY — A young Bethel girl was at home Wednesday, recovering from a serious head injury suffered Sunday when she fell headfirst into a drainage ravine while skiing at Sunday River Ski Resort.
When found by ski patrollers, Kayla Kofton-Bileau, 14, who suffered a severe concussion, loss of consciousness and back pain in the accident, was in danger of dying from hypothermia, her mother, Cheryl Bileau, said.
The youngster was strapped to a backboard and into a rescue boggan in the icy ravine, lifted out and taken down the mountain to the South Ridge Patrol Clinic. There she was tended to before being airlifted at 4:47 p.m. by LifeFlight to the Maine Medical Center in Portland, resort spokeswoman Darcy Morse said on Tuesday.
Her parents then drove down, where they stayed for six hours before Kayla was released.
"It was such a wonderful sight to walk into that hospital and see that she was alive, and she was looking at me like, 'What's the big deal?'" Cheryl Bileau said.
The "big deal," Bileau said, was that had Kayla not been wearing her Giro snowboard helmet, she would have likely suffered a fatal skull fracture or still be comatose at the hospital.
"Thank God she had a helmet on," Bileau said. "I just think about how fortunate our family is that she's alive, because she came so close. Her core body temperature went down to 93 degrees, so she was in danger of dying from hypothermia."
"It's amazing she didn't break anything," she said.
Kofton-Bileau, her dad, Marc Bileau, and her sister, Katryna Kofton, agreed about helmet use. Her father and sister work at the ski resort and said they see people without helmets all the time.
"It is so important to wear a helmet, because I literally would have died without one," Kofton-Bileau, an eighth-grade student at Telstar Middle School, said.
Early Wednesday evening inside the Bethel Chamber of Commerce office, Kofton-Bileau vividly recalled the accident.
She said she learned to ski last month and was cleared by her instructor to ride the intermediate Grand Rapids Trail atop North Peak. She'd skied it before and had no problems.
Earlier Sunday, the youngster said she was snowboarding on the trail, but toward the end of the day, when she switched to skis, the trail had become icy.
"That trail's heavily traveled, so it gets icy toward the end of the day," Marc Bileau said.
"I was skiing down, and I was trying to pay attention to all the other skiers around me, so I didn't see the side of the trail," Kofton-Bileau said. "So I ended up falling off the side of the trail, headfirst into the ravine, 30 feet down."
She said she hit her head on a fallen tree and came to rest in a stream. The air temperature was 18 degrees Fahrenheit.
"I was unconscious for about 20 minutes, and nobody actually saw me fall off the trail," the 14-year-old said.
When she regained consciousness, she said she got out of the water and started screaming for help.
"I was yelling, 'Help! Help! I fell in the ditch!" she said. "My back and my head were hurting, and I knew I shouldn't move."
She said two skiers heard her calls for help and skied to the edge of the ravine. One called ski patrol.
Spokeswoman Morse said patrollers were alerted at 3:50 p.m. and arrived at the ravine eight minutes later.
Morse said a witness saw the accident happen and called it in to patrol from the Chondola lift.
Marc Bileau credited a ski patroller, whose name he only knew as Robin, for being the first responder.
He said Robin stayed with Kayla "pretty much the whole time until she got to the helicopter."
"Which was awesome," Cheryl Bileau said, "because she was so scared."
Marc Bileau, a lift operator, and Kofton, who checks tickets at Lift 2, said they were working on the mountain when notified that Kayla had been injured.
Bileau said they went to pick her up, not realizing the seriousness of the injuries because they hadn't been told. Then they saw the LifeFlight helicopter land.
Cheryl Bileau said that since the accident, Kofton-Bileau has experienced nausea, memory loss, occasional tunnel vision and headaches.
"We're hoping that's going to improve with time," she said.
In the meantime, the family has been trying to thank all involved in the rescue.
"The staff from Sunday River who rescued her and brought her to the LifeFlight helicopter worked like a well-oiled machine," Cheryl Bileau said. "Without the staff at Sunday River, the team on the helicopter and the doctors at the hospital, it could have been a very different outcome."
"Ski patrol, they're not just cops," Marc Bileau added. "They're there when you need them."