Ore­gon res­cue push re­news a cost de­bate

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Joyce Howard Price

The search for climbers miss­ing on Ore­gon’s Mount Hood cost the county gov­ern­ment there up to $6,000 per day, but na­tional search-and-res­cue lead­ers say that is just a frac­tion of the to­tal costs of such a mis­sion.

“Any­time you get in­volved with us­ing heavy he­li­copters [in a res­cue ef­fort], the cost can run you as much as $5,000 an hour, and I un­der­stand they have been us­ing three large he­li­copters in this search,” Randy Servis, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Search and Res­cue, said in a tele­phone in­ter­view on Dec. 18.

He said the highly pub­li­cized search for three climbers on the 11,239-foot moun­tain has re­newed de­bate over whether sub­jects of a search or their sur­vivors should re­im­burse gov­ern­ments for the costs of the search, if those miss­ing were in­volved in a risky ac­tiv­ity.

“To­moun­tain­climbers,thi­sis­not anex­treme­s­port,but­to­some­one­sit­ting in Alexan­dria [Va.], it prob­a­bly would be,” Mr. Servis said. “When you get in­volved in a mul­ti­a­gency, mul­ti­day, mul­ti­dis­ci­pline event, the costs can go to the ex­treme.”

He cited an un­suc­cess­ful 11-day search in June for two women miss­ing on Mount Fo­raker in Alaska’s De­nali Na­tional Park that cost $127,000.

“It’smost­typ­i­calthat­gov­ern­ment bears­the­costof­searchan­dres­cue,” said Chris Brew­ster, pres­i­dent of the non­profit United States Life­sav­ing As­so­ci­a­tion. “It’s un­usual when peo­ple are billed for such ser­vices. And there is a fine line here be­tween al­low­ing peo­ple the free­dom to be ad­ven­tur­ous, and cre­at­ing an un­due­bur­de­nonothers”in­termsof costs and safety is­sues.

The Mary­land Nat­u­ral Re­sources Po­lice, in doc­u­ments re­leased in Au­gust, said it spent $76,000 on salaries, over­time pay and fuel costs dur­ing its nine-day June search for the body of Philip Mer­rill, pub­lisher of the An­napo­lis Cap­i­tal news­pa­per and Wash­ing­to­nian mag­a­zine. Mr. Mer­rill dis­ap­peared from his 41foot boat af­ter he went sail­ing alone on a windy day. Po­lice de­ter­mined he com­mit­ted sui­cide with a shot­gun.

That $76,000 to­tal does not in­clude costs in­curred by other agen­cies in­volved in the search, such as the U.S. Coast Guard. Cmdr. Jeff Carter, a Coast Guard spokesman, said that agency does not charge for searches,ex­cept­in­cas­eswhen­i­tre­ceives “false dis­tress calls.”

Me­dia at­ten­tion has an in­flu­ence on­search­ef­forts,Mr.Brew­ster­said.

“There is no ques­tion that as at­ten­tion to an in­ci­dent in­creases, po­ten­tial costs rise as well, be­cause of the pres­sure brought to bear on agen­cies over­see­ing the res­cue,” he said, and this some­times means a “dis­torted amount” of search ef­forts.

But Mr. Servis said, “Gen­er­ally, 90 per­cent of all search and res­cues rely on vol­un­teer re­sources.”

Vol­un­teers­did­mostofthe­searchin­gonMoun­tHood,saidMon­tyBell, past pres­i­dent of the 3,000-mem­ber Moun­tain Res­cue As­so­ci­a­tion.

Atthis­time,Ore­go­niso­ne­o­fonly two states that have laws al­low­ing them to seek re­cov­ery of searc­hand-res­cue costs. The other is Colorado. In ad­di­tion, one ju­ris­dic­tion in Utah — Grand County — is al­lowed to seek re­cov­ery of searc­hand-res­cue costs, Mr. Servis said.

Ore­gon en­acted its law in 1995, af­ter tax­pay­ers shelled out $10,000 to find three col­lege stu­dents who dis­ap­peared on Mount Hood with­out a cell phone or ra­dio lo­ca­tor bea­con, They turned up safe in a warm tent.

Deputy Gerry Tif­fany, a spokesman for the Hood River County Sher­iff’s Of­fice, which co­or­di­nated the search for the miss­ing moun­tain climbers, es­ti­mated the search cost the county be­tween $5,000 and $6,000 a day. But he told USA To­day that Ore­gon only en­forces the search re­cov­ery law “when peo­ple do re­ally dumb things.”

As­so­ci­ated Press

Bro­ken ro­tors from a crashed he­li­copter are vis­i­ble on the slope be­hind an Ore­gon Na­tional Guard he­li­copter as it lifts a sur­vivor of a climb­ing ac­ci­dent off the slopes of Mount Hood, Ore. while oth­ers wait be­low on May 30, 2002. Mount Hood can be a dan­ger­ous place and that was proven again this month as one climber’s body was re­moved and two re­main miss­ing on the moun­tain.

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