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Posts Tagged ‘Search and Rescue fines’

by Mike Dickerman

Random thoughts from a wandering tramper who’s thankful he’s never gotten lost or seriously hurt in the woods…

A relatively new state law that makes it easier for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department to recoup costs related to search and rescue missions may be facing its first serious challenge. According to press reports, 17-year-old Scott Mason of Halifax, Mass., says he and his family will contest the recent decision by Fish and Game to charge him more than $25,000 for his April rescue from the Presidential Range. The fine, announced late last week, is believed to be the largest ever handed out in a New Hampshire search and rescue incident.

Mason, as readers may recall, spent three nights alone on the lower slopes of Mount Washington after he injured his ankle while on a planned single-day Presidential Range traverse. Instead of retracing his steps after hurting his ankle, Mason attempted to shortcut his way back to the AMC Pinkham Notch Camp on Route 16 by dropping down into the Great Gulf Wilderness. There he encountered deep spring snow and streams swollen by rain ands spring snow melt, and was unable to walk out as planned. Instead he hunkered down for three days and was eventually found by rescuers as he was making his way back up to the summit of Mount Washington.

In confirming the fine last week, Fish and Game authorities stated they believe the Massachusetts teen was “negligent” in continuing on with his hike after spraining his ankle. “When I twist my ankle, I turn around and come down. He kept going up,” asserted Fish and Game’s Major Tim Acerno. “It was his negligence that led to him getting into [his] predicament.” This finding of negligence is what allowed Fish and Game to charge Mason with such a heavy fine. Under state law, if F&G determines an individual has acted in a negligent manner- based on judging what a reasonable person would do in the same situation- they are allowed to recoup rescue costs. The law was revised just a year or so ago and made it easier for F&G to seek reimbursement for rescues by changing the standard from a harder-to-prove recklessness standard to the current negligent standard.

It appears Mason and his family will challenge the fine in court, which would be the first time that has happened since passage of the new law in 2008. Meanwhile, public reaction to the news has been mixed, with critics charging, among other things, that the fine is excessive (especially given the age of the hiker) and that Mason did not act negligently and was poised to make it out of the woods safely without help from rescuers. Supporters, on the other hand, say the fine is justified, given the enormous expense of the three-day rescue, and Mason’s insistence on continuing on with his hike even after he was injured..

While I agree that some kind of fine is in order, $25,000 does seem a bit excessive. Perhaps lawmakers should go back and reexamine their work, capping fines at a more reasonable number and better clarifying what constitutes “negligent” behavior….

Though 10-year-old Patric McCarthy of Bourne, Mass., was not a hiker, per se, his death in the White Mountains nearly six years ago remains one of enduring fascination, especially for the hundreds of volunteers who fanned out across the region to look for the missing boy during a massive five-day search in the Lincoln area.

Given the unusual circumstances surrounding his October 2003 disappearance, and the eventual discovery of his lifeless body high up on the slopes of Whaleback Mountain several days later, rumors of foul play have circulated since the day he vanished into the woods behind his family’s condominium off the Kancamagus Highway in Lincoln. Thus it came as no surprise, at least to this reporter, that surviving family members late this past week asked federal law enforcement authorities to reopen the investigation into Patric’s death.

The McCarthys say a private investigator’s findings, backed by opinions from a number of medical experts, show that Patric was probably a homicide victim and not just a young boy who died from hypothermia after losing his way in the woods behind the Clearbrook condominium development. Because his body was eventually found in the White Mountain National Forest, the family is asking that the U.S. Attorney’s office head up a new investigation. Reportedly, FBI investigators have recently been interviewing individuals close to the case. Previous attempts by the McCarthy’s to involve federal authorities have pretty much fallen on deaf ears…

Coming soon to a bookstore near you- a new 10th anniversary edition of Nicholas Howe’s compelling “Not Without Peril,” which looks back at 150 years of misadventure and tragedy on Mount Washington and the Presidential Range. This book by the well known Jackson author is a must read for anyone interested in Mount Washington’s dark past and should be required reading by any and all hikers who plan on the taking on rugged trails of New England’s highest and most forbidding mountain range. The new anniversary edition, which will hit bookstores this fall, is supposed to include a new updated introduction by Howe, along with the many timeless mountain tales that have made “Not Without Peril” one of the best-selling White Mountain books of all time…

While on the topic of new books, be on the lookout for two additional new Mount Washington-related titles, both by Berlin author Eric Pinder. The first is Eric’s newly published kids book, “Cat in the Clouds,” which chronicles the story of Nin, the famous cat who for more than a decade lived atop Mount Washington with staffers from the summit weather observatory. The other is a newly revised second edition of Pinder’s “Life at the Top,” which includes the author’s musings on life as a weather observer atop the Rock Pile, and a host of tried and true recipes that have been used to keep Observatory staffers well fed, even during the long stretches of foul weather that the mountain is so well known for.

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