Altitude sickness is sidelining officers assigned to TMT protest on Mauna Kea

Updated: Oct. 18, 2019 at 4:04 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Altitude sickness is a very real danger on Mauna Kea.

And law enforcement officers assigned to the Thirty Meter Telescope protest on the mountain are quickly learning that.

Hawaii News Now has learned that seven state law enforcement officers were forced off the mountain in September because of altitude sickness. Five were evacuated and hospitalized.

“HGEA is extremely concerned with the health and safety of deputy sheriffs,” wrote HGEA executive director Randy Perreira.

The state Attorney General’s office confirmed three deputy sheriffs and one attorney general investigator were transported in separate incidents in an ambulance, but did not release specific dates.

Sources told Hawaii News Now the officers have filed for workers compensation.

Both the state Attorney General’s Office and Public Safety Department released a statement saying they’re concerned about the officers’ health and well-being.

“We do have our personnel on rotations as a safeguard against the effects of altitude sickness,” said the statement.

The officers were staying at Hale Pohaku, which is at the halfway point at Mauna Kea ― at about 9,000 feet.

Dr. Kalamaokaaina Niheu, of the Mauna Medic Healers Hui, said numerous protesters have gotten altitude sickness as well.

“The classic symptoms at this level are nausea, headache, shortness of breath and confusion,” she said.

“It’s actually our no. 1 treatment here,” she added.

The University of Hawaii said telescope workers, rangers and support staff who work at the mountain also experience symptom. There appears to be no rhyme or reason who gets sick from the thin air.

“We’ve also heard stories of people who worked up there for a decade and never suffered from it and then they get it,” said UH spokesman Dan Meisenzahl.

“Lack of knowledge of some symptoms ― tunnel vision, vertigo ― can lead to irrational fears or panic that may exacerbate the situation,” according to Keck Observatory materials.

Hawaii County Police Department said none of its officers have been affected by altitude sickness.

HGEA would not comment for this story.

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