Who pays for rescue efforts when people are lost? Who should?

A few days ago, Kraig wrote about the three hikers lost on Mt. Hood. At the time of his post, one of the hikers had been found dead. The other two were still missing. Almost a week after they set out on their climb, they are still missing and most probably are dead. Because of this tragic situation, the question of who foots the bill for rescue efforts has come up once more.

Back in 2005, then Gadling blogger Erik Olsen wrestled with the question about who should pay–the lost hiker who hopefully is found–or tax payers? Olsen’s musings came about after a hiker hurt his ankle while hiking in Colorado. Several fire departments rescued the hiker after he spent a night on the mountain. The sticker price for the rescue was $5,000. In this case, the fire departments wanted the hiker to pay.

Usually, the people who are getting rescued don’t pay anything. But is that fair? Rescue attempts can be pricey. Consider this: From 1992 to 2007, the U.S. National Park Service spent $58 million on search and rescue efforts.

This recent Newsweek article echoes some of Erik’s points. As the article highlights, the hard economics question of who should pay for rescue attempts has as many facets to consider as it always has.

While one might say that people who take risks by heading up a mountain top or straying off a path should pay up once he or she is found, there are other factors to keep in mind.

  • One is a concern that people may avoid calling for help until it’s too late out of fear for what a rescue attempt might cost.
  • Some risks are unknown. A beautiful sunny day could go sour if the wind shifts, for example. Should people be punished when nature is at fault?
  • A large portion of rescue attempts are made by volunteers, therefore the cost is curtailed.
  • When fire departments and military units are part of rescue efforts, they often have hours to log towards rescues. A real live rescue helps them meet their quota.
  • Sometimes a rescue attempt may be launched even though the hiker is not in danger. A seasoned hiker may be holed up somewhere waiting for more favorable hiking conditions while a family member is frantic with worry.

With the knowledge that lost hikers are part of the outdoor scene, being financially proactive seems to be the best approach for handling costs before they occur. Colorado, for example, collects a small portion of the money from state recreational fees to put into a fund that is earmarked for search and rescue.

In Alaska, people who are mountain climbing up Mount McKinley pay $200 for the privilege.

Although planning for a tragic situation is never pleasant, it seems that in this case, planning ahead for the ” just in case” is sound. Otherwise, at the worst possible moment, people will be faced with the question, “How much is a life worth?

Mark your calendars for the 2010 Death Race

If this year’s Death Race is any indication, I’m totally onboard for 2010’s race. The annual competition that takes place every year in Vermont just finished, and our old friend and contributor Erik Olsen put together a video for the New York Times detailing the trials of competition. Dubbed “survivor meets jackass,” competitors are pitched against each other in a 24 hour race carrying rocks up hills, chopping out stumps, crawling under barbed wire and even assembling legos. It sounds, well, miserable, but like an enlightening experience. Take a look.

U.S.S. Oriskany, McCain’s old stomping ground, now a diving destination in Florida

Erik Olsen, former Gadling blogger extraordinaire (he topped 4,000 posts) has a recent article in the New York Times about the U.S.S. Oriskany, a battleship that was turned into an artificial reef off the coast of Florida near Pensacola.

This “great carrier reef,” Olsen reports, is one of the best places to dive in the United States and has put Pensacola in the money. Dive shops have done a booming business and the ship has generated a considerable sum for the county besides.

Along with divers, military buffs and those who served on the ship back when have come to see it.

John McCain, though, has yet to make an appearance. McCain’s plane took off from the ship’s deck almost 31 years ago on his last mission before he was shot down during the Vietnam conflict and found himself in the “Hanoi Hilton” aka, Hoa Lo Prison, most definitely not enjoying the city’s charm like I have.

As Olsen points out, there are some environmental concerns regarding sinking ships, however the Environmental Protection Agency helped to ensure the ship was cleaned up enough to be turned into an ocean life haven. Studies are being done to see what adverse environmental footprints are being made, if any. The fear is that PCBs are being released.

Regardless of the possible downside, barnacles, sea urchins and 38 fish species now call the Mighty O–the ship’s nickname, home. Also, it can’t be denied that sunken ships make great diving spots for folks who know what they are doing. Two people did die while diving at the Oriskany. One person died after getting the bends from diving down too far and coming up too fast, and the other one had a heart attack. The guy with the heart attack would have died regardless of what he was doing–even knitting.

Diving at the ship sounds fascinating–and I have a fear of drowning. Reading Olsen’s description gave me the inkling that learning to scuba dive needs to be bumped up on my things-to-learn list. Actually, I’m not sure scuba diving has been on my things-to-learn-list. I’ve penciled it in.

For a slide show of the ship, click here. Also, check out Olsen’s article. The guy can write. He can also scuba dive. This video was taken during his dive of the Mighty O. Plus, he can take pictures. The photo, as you might notice, is by him. Jeez, what can’t he do?

Photo of the Day (6/19/2007)

Gonna draw again from a series of my own photos today for the Gadling Photo of the Day. This one comes from Norway, from where I recently returned after a glorious ten-day trip exploring fjords and cities and lovely little Scandinavian villages.

The shot here of a rainbow over the fjord was taken late one afternoon after a very satisfying nap.

I actually shot it right from the balcony of the hotel (the Hotel Balustrand) where we were staying. I thought perhaps it was just a lucky moment, but we saw like four more rainbows that day, so this area is now officially dubbed “Rainbow Alley”.

Escape from Newfoundland

Well, it’s just about 9am here in St. John’s Newfoundland and my flight is supposed to leave in 4 minutes. After our flight was canceled yesterday and we were left hanging, left to completely fend for ourselves in a heavily over-booked city, I figured the folks at Continental would do everything they could to get a crew here and get folks out on time the following day. I was wrong. The plane is now delayed for at least two hours.

And sadly, St. John’s is one of those airports where there is nary a Starbucks, and so all there is to do is sit and wait. Well, OK, there is a Tim Hortons here, a Canadian chain that is kind of like a Dunkin Donuts, but the coffee is thin bellywash, hardly strong enough to pep up a fly. So in the meantime I’m sitting here reading Tom Wolfe’s latest opus, I Am Charlotte Simmons (quite good by the way) and wondering when this travel nightmare is going to end. (I look a bit haggard, eh? Vacationing is hard work.) Funny thing is, people here in Newfoundland are so nice that I’ve already had three people come up to talk to me. One of them was a lady who works in the security line. Have you ever heard of the security folks being chatty? Only in Canada.

Anyway, I’ve got some good Newfoundland stories to tell and pictures, perhaps even video to show of what a fascinating and lovely place this is. But I want to get back to start cranking this stuff out. In the meantime, I wait. And wait. And wait.