Col. Martin Garabedian, N.H. Fish and Game: 603-271-3128
Capt. Kevin Jordan, NHFG: 603-271-3128
Jane Vachon, NHFG: 603-271-3211
N.H. Attorney General's Office: 603-271-3658
April 9, 2010
Reimbursement Request Will Not Be Pursued for 2009 Rescue of Hiker Scott Mason
CONCORD, N.H. – The New Hampshire Office of the Attorney General and the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department have decided not to pursue reimbursement of costs for the extensive search and rescue operation on Mount Washington in April 2009 for then-17-year-old hiker Scott Mason of Halifax, Mass.
Mason was missing for three days after leaving the Appalachian Mountain Club's Pinkham Notch Visitor Center alone, intending to complete a 17-mile hike in one day. According to his account, he spent several days in the Great Gulf Wilderness attempting a shortcut of his planned route after spraining his ankle during the morning of his first day out. Conditions in the White Mountains became increasingly treacherous over the course of the search; rain and rapid snowmelt made many small streams impassable, requiring search teams to use rope traverses to cross raging waters. Helicopters were called in from Maine and Vermont to search for Mason from the air.
On July 10, 2009, Mason was asked for repayment of Fish and Game's costs associated with the Search and Rescue, amounting to approximately $25,235. The case has been under discussion and analysis in the intervening months. While confident of the legal merit of the case, it was decided not to pursue collecting the reimbursement because of Mason's personal circumstances and conditions at this time. The Department reserved the right to bring action in the future, however.
In a letter sent on April 8, 2010, to Scott Mason's legal counsel, N.H. Attorney General Michael Delaney and N.H. Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau wrote: "We are happy that Mr. Mason was found alive after what was no doubt a stressful and traumatizing ordeal on Mt. Washington and in the Great Gulf Wilderness. We hope that the publicity about his experience has served as an important teaching moment to others considering hiking in the White Mountains, so they might know that the dangers and risks of doing so should never be underestimated. We wish Mr. Mason and his family well." [Click here for full text of this letter (pdf file).]
New Hampshire has two laws that allow the state to be reimbursed for an emergency response or search and rescue incident. The first law was enacted in 1999. A second law passed in 2008 lowered the standard of responsibility from "reckless" to "negligent," increasing the number of cases in which costs could be recouped from irresponsible hikers. Search and Rescue missions go through a set review process involving guidelines established by the N.H. Attorney General's Office. The process involves review by the mission's supervisor, the Chief of Fish and Game Law Enforcement and Fish and Game Executive Director and culminates with a review by the N.H. Attorney General's Office for final concurrence.
The laws allowing Fish and Game to request reimbursement from negligent hikers were intended to deter hikers from heading off into the mountains unprepared, but they are part of a much wider effort to prevent the need for emergency rescues by educating the public about safe hiking practices. Fish and Game has a proactive campaign to help people be prepared and act responsibly when enjoying the outdoors, especially in rugged places like the White Mountains. This educational program, called HikeSafe, was established in 2003 and is conducted in partnership with the White Mountain National Forest. N.H. Fish and Game encourages all outdoor enthusiasts to take a few minutes and review the Hiker Responsibility Code at www.hikeSafe.com.
- ### -